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Reading Christian Network

Our vision is to see the communities of Reading transformed by the life, love and power of Jesus Christ.

Reading is situated about 40 miles west of London and is now bidding to gain city status. It is the largest town in the south-east, with an urban population of 213,000. It is the major urban area of the Thames Valley with a catchment of 1.7 million people and 800,000 people living within a 25 minute drive. As an employment and retail centre, Reading serves a large part of the Thames Valley. The Reading Christian Network (RCN), a mainly evangelical and charismatic group, wants to see transformation in all of our communities - local areas, different age groups, diverse people-groups, and every sphere of activity in which God's people live out their lives impacted with the Good News of Jesus. This begins with personal transformation as we encounter the living God in our own lives, and overflows to affect the whole created order, bringing blessing to every area of life.

Origins of RCN

The story of RCN began in January 1997 when eight or nine Christian leaders met together in a riverside hotel. They were all concerned to look beyond their narrow denominational boundaries to seek the well-being of Reading as a whole. “There was, in my own mind, a growing awareness that we could never impact a town for God while the different groups of Christians were at loggerheads with one another, refused to recognise each other and were not obeying Christ's command to his disciples, 'to love one another'.” At that time, Churches Together in Reading suffered from a lack of leadership and was not supported by Church Leaders. At this meeting, they asked what (more) God might be asking of them.

The immediate result was that Greyfriars Church in the town centre offered its next Bible Week event traditionally held in June each year as a springboard for an activity that they could present together. The group invited Ed Silvoso, Director of Harvest Evangelism in California, as guest speaker to talk about how to make a difference in their community. They invited clergy and pastors from every denomination to a day-time conference and moved the venue to a sports complex in nearby Earley to cope with the numbers now expected. Evening sessions were open to the whole church and 1,500 – 2,000 people attended.

At the end of the four-day conference the speaker challenged the lay people there to form prayer clusters in every street to pray for their neighbours and to be a blessing to them. “As pastors and church leaders, a number of us felt that we should lead by example and so invited all those in Christian leadership who wished to attend, to join us for prayer each Wednesday at 8.00 am in Greyfriars Church to pray for an hour for God to intervene in the affairs of Reading.” Although there was lots of social action activity going on, this was the first time that church leaders had committed to come together to pray. This weekly meeting for prayer has continued up to the present day. At first, about fifteen people attended, but this has now grown to a regular attendance of 30-40 people, clergy and project leaders.

RCN works alongside Churches Together Reading (CTR). “CTR represented the widest range and number of churches which is important. On the other hand, this width could limit fast decision making in some areas. RCN's sharper focus gave it strength and speed in some areas. Arguably, they complement each other.”

Aims and objectives

· To advance the Christian faith;
· To provide or assist in the provision of facilities in the interests of social welfare for recreation or other leisure time occupation for individuals who have need of such facilities by reason of their youth, age, infirmity or disability, financial hardship or social circumstances with the object of improving their conditions of life.
· To relieve the needs of persons who are in need due to age, sickness or financial hardship in such parts of the UK and the world as the trustees may from time to time think fit.

The ethos of RCN

So let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5 v 16)

“As we, the body of Christ in Reading, stand together in praise, thanksgiving, worship and intercession, we seek God's blessing on our town and surrounding areas through:

· Joined-up Leadership – Building a strong network of leaders in all spheres across the town.
· Joined-up Strategy – Planning and the Prophetic in harmony
· Joined-up Mission – Personal evangelism, social action, workplace ministry and broader mission all embraced
· Joined-up ‘Ownership’ – Embedded involvement at local church level Seeing our part in the big picture
· Joined-up Visibility ­– Raising the profile of all the good things that church is doing in the eyes of media, politicians, other agencies and wider communities “

Linked churches

In addition to its links with Churches Together in Reading and the Barnabas Fellowship, RCN is linked with the following individual churches:

·    Brookside Church

·       Caversham Baptist Church

·        Cornwell Community Church

·         Greyfriars Church

·         Lifespring Church

·        Reading Community Church

·         Reading Vineyard Church

·         St Agnes and St Paul Church

·         St Saviours Church

·         Shinfield Baptist Church

·         Thameside Church

·         Tyndale Baptist Church

·         Whiteknights Church

·         Wycliffe Church.

 

Examples of RCN activities in addition to the weekly prayer meetings include:

· A retreat designed to equip and support leaders at which invited speakers helped them to renew and refresh the vision for serving the town.
· Advertised gatherings open to all.
· Co-ordinated prayer undertaken by intercessors – people with a particular calling and burden to pray for the spiritual transformation of the town.
· Building links with key people in different spheres of influence, such as politics, health, education, community safety, business and local government.

RCN has developed in various ways. First, its membership has not only increased numerically, but also extended to include project leaders, youth leaders and business leaders as well as clergy. From time to time, local leaders are invited for part of the meeting to share their hopes for Reading, after which the group offers to pray for them. For example, the Mayor, MP, Chief Executive of the Borough Council, Police Chief and Councillors have all attended.

The network of youth leaders, supported financially by RCN, also meets independently to pray once a week and support one another in their ministry both in church youth groups and community outreach projects.

Similarly, arising out of RCN, a group of evangelical Christian business people have grouped together under the banner of ‘The Family Business’ and they sometimes join RCN on Wednesdays. They have held some mentoring workshops for people in local churches looking to launch a new business. They have also been in touch with the Reading Borough Council Chief Executive to say they are willing to give financial or other support to suggested initiatives.

RCN has become an umbrella organisation for a variety of projects. “We realised that God was calling us to more challenges and to be more proactive.” The relationships developed through the weekly prayer meetings support day-to-day services in Reading and the surrounding areas. Projects linked with RCN include:

· Reading Street Pastors were launched in February 2009 and commissioned in October that year. RCN employs the project co-ordinator. Reading Churches, the Reading Safer Form under the Borough Council, the local Pubwatch group and the Police are all fully committed to the scheme (see box below).

· Christian Community Action collects good quality second hand furniture and distributes it to people in need for a nominal charge via their support centres. Surplus items are sold through their charity shops.

· Mustard Tree Foundation seeks to be a voice for those who have no voice and enable the community to speak for itself. It is an umbrella for several projects including Lighthouse which provides alternative education for excluded pupils, those at risk of exclusion, teenage mothers and school phobics; Parenting classes; Positive Activities for Young People (PAYP); Reading Lifeline, which gives pregnancy advice; Open Door coffee shop; and Rahab, a project designed to offer support and befriending to women involved in the sex industry. A new group, Springboard, is now running, which seeks to help people in Reading to run with their dreams and visions to transform the town. It will support initiatives from across the entire Christian spectrum but ideas must involve people from more than one congregation.

· Churches in Reading Drop-in Centre (CIRDIC) provides support services for homeless people.

· Churches in Reading Women’s Centre is a self-help group open to all women. It offers a friendly family atmosphere and a listening ear, with opportunities for women to share skills and support each other.

· Frontline provides debt advice and trains volunteers to give debt counselling.

· Liberia Link was set up in 2009 to support and work with poor communities in Liberia.

RCN is associated with Impact Reading, a network of 25-30 Christian social action organisations in Reading and surrounding areas.

Someone involved in RCN, Impact Reading and The Mustard Tree served as the faith representative on Reading Local Strategic Partnership. This led to about 50 others becoming involved on various committees and panels around the town. It gave an opportunity for both planning and delivery influence. When Reading recently completed its Sustainable Community Strategy, ‘breaking the cycle of poverty’ featured as the top priority. There was also the chance to take the lead on thinking through the strategy relating to street workers.

One of the ways of filtering the vision through to local churches has been through DVDs. A national film maker who lives locally had heard about RCN and having attended a meeting was so impressed with the unity expressed that he offered to help by making two DVDs that each showcase four projects. These have been completed and more will follow.

RCN draws a distinction between ministry activities serving people in need freely and unconditionally and the more overt preaching or declaration of beliefs that constitute mission activities.

Organisational status

RCN has charitable status and is a company limited by guarantee. It was a major step to formalise arrangements in this way but necessary in order to maximise the potential for fundraising. The Trustees are elected by and accountable to the wider group and oversee the strategic direction of the organisation. Amongst the Trustees are people with expertise in finance, employment and policy matters. In addition, there is a Steering Group which has responsibility for RCN’s day-to-day running.

Outcomes

“From meeting to pray together on such a regular basis have sprung deep friendships and trust across the denominational divides. It has resulted in raising funds for a number of different social issues in the town and it is my conviction that the success of the Regenerate programme[1] across the churches in Reading was because there has been ten years of weekly prayer offered up by those in some form of Christian leadership or other and that unity has born fruit.”

The Signs of transformation defined by RCN are:

· churches loving God, loving each other and growing in numbers and in influence as men, women, youth and children are saved, added and discipled;
· schools where order and discipline reign so that children and young people can fulfil their potential as they learn;
· business life infused with kingdom principles and standards so that wealth is generated and recycled for the blessing of all not just a few;
· crime and corruption diminishing throughout the community;
· social entertainment based on goodness not empty pleasure-seeking;
· politics built on trust and respect, family life strengthened and supported;
· arts and the media projecting creativity in praise of the creator;

. . . . .and so on through all the spheres

Success factors

· The stress on the primacy of prayer, but also the inseparability of prayers and social action.
· Faithfulness and persistence.
· The stress on the importance of personal relationships and the way that new initiatives can grow organically out of them.
· Working alongside public sector leaders in the town and gaining credibility and therefore influence amongst them.

Challenges and opportunities

· Appealing to a wider range of (non-evangelical) Christians.
· Making more space for theological reflection.


c/o Greyfriars Church,
Friar Street,
Reading,
RG1 1EH
http://www.reading-christian-network.com/


[1] Regenerate was a joint mission to the town starting in 2006 involving all streams of church life doing evangelism in their own style but also with joint training and events. “What we have found is that unity builds best round joint action, that it needs to give freedom and respect to churches that do things differently, and needs to be gracious to each other, relying on the grace of Christ.”


Street Pastors

The Street Pastors Initiative is an interdenominational Christian response to today’s social problems. It is spearheaded by the Ascension Trust. (http://www.streetpastors.co.uk/)

A Street Pastor is a Church member with a concern for society - in particular for young people who feel themselves to be excluded and marginalised - and who is willing to engage people where they are, in terms of their thinking (i.e. their perspective of life) and location (i.e. where they hang out - be it on the streets, in the pubs and clubs or at parties etc). Street Pastors will also be willing to work with fellow activists, church and community leaders, and with agencies and projects, both statutory and voluntary, to look at collaborative ways of working on issues affecting youth, and initiatives that will build trust between them and the Street Pastors.

As the Street Pastor gets to know people in the community he/she will find out their needs are and what can be done to help. A presence of Street Pastors will earn credibility in the community, so that people know that the Church is there for them in a practical way. The role is not about preaching heaven and hell, but one of listening, caring and helping - working in an unconditional way.

To be a Street Pastor you need to be over 18 (no upper age limit), a church member and able to commit to our training programme.

Each Street Pastor team consists of at least three groups of four, each of which will work a minimum of one night a month, usually from 10pm to around 4am.

After 18months, Reading Street Pastors had:

· 55 committed volunteers
· 25 Churches represented
· 12 regular prayer pastors
· Contact with over 6700 people
· Calmed 202 aggressive situations
· Supported 586 vulnerable people
· Picked up 3390 glass bottle
· Dealt with 42 First Aid incidents
· Handed out 282 safety blankets
· Protected 394 feet, providing flip-flops
· Handed out many thousands of lollipops
· Referred 94 people to various organisations