Story 97 - Bidwell West Update
By Timothy Haines 26/03/2021
"... Where are we going Lord? I will show you when we get there."
There is something equally infuriating and humbling in the way God often leads us. Infuriating in that our human tendency is to want to know the details, the clarity of what’s ahead, the insight to prepare. Humbling, because usually we realise that had we known the full extent of what God would do, we might not have even taken the first step.
Establishing a Christian community in the early days of the new housing development, Bidwell West in Bedfordshire has been an important idea for more than 16 years and part of prayerful discussion for at least 9. And yet, the rate the houses are going up, and number of people already moving in, has caught everyone off guard! Over the next 15 years the population of the town of Houghton Regis will almost double as over 8,000 properties are built and occupied. I am one of these new residents, having arrived on Bidwell West at the end of February 2021 as the Pioneer Community Worker with Houghton Regis Community Development Charity (HRCDC).
HRCDC is a partnership formed by churches together in Houghton Regis, the South Bedfordshire Methodist Circuit, the Diocese of St Albans and the Central Baptist Association. Our purpose is to contribute to the growth of a healthy, vibrant, thriving and inclusive community by working with residents, local churches and other stakeholders.
Having been the pastor of a great Baptist Church in the north west of England for the past seven years, moving to a new area and ministry has been both exciting and daunting. Due to lockdowns and restrictions, the first time I got to see the new house in person was as I pulled up with the removals van not far behind. Relocating during a global pandemic was not easy, but through social media I had got to know some new neighbours and was receiving daily progress photos from them of how the build was going. It’s something I have reflected on in these first few weeks, that although part of my role is to, ‘create welcome’, I must never forget this posture of, ‘being welcomed'. Often in Jesus ministry we see how He was invited as a guest to a meal, and only at their invitation would he become the host. My main task since arriving has been to listen to the heartbeat of God, for the moving of the Holy Spirit and to the hopes and dreams of neighbours. Whether it’s via social media, or doorstep chats over a plate of freshly baked pies from your neighbour, there is always something to hear, if we are willing to listen.
It is from the listening, that we have started to address the lack of space or activities for young families. That’s why our first project is an outdoor popup toddler group meeting under gazebos around the estate with soft play equipment, crafts and forest school resources. Creating spaces of encounter seem something we are being called to do.
Like myself, a significant percentage of new residents are moving from outside the area, so not knowing where everything is, is disorientating. Another project we are working on is a website which will include a community guide with an interactive map to find local groups, businesses and providers as part of a digital welcome pack. We’re excited that this seems to be growing into a partnership with the local council and other community groups.
As a charity we have an interest in the proposed community centre site on the estate, and these developments are progressing rapidly, and we hope to have a public consultation in the autumn.
To have residents already joining us on the journey is amazing, but also a testament to the years of work and prayer that has gone on long before I arrived on the estate. Starting at a place of listening, and remembering my posture of guest, has opened opportunities which continue to amaze me, and give thanks for.
I am looking forward to the opportunities of increased social interaction in the coming months, as we gather for community BBQ’s and outdoor events. I’m looking forward to relationships with residents growing, and awareness and partnerships with the local council and community groups increasing. I am looking forward to being infuriated and humbled again and again, as we see God’s leading to the place where we are going, which He reveals step by step.