When a Travelling Community Turns up on your Patch
Mat Wilson tells the story of the week a community of travellers moved onto the sports fields managed by the church on behalf of the neighbourhood. How would a church committed to welcome and hospitality navigate the tension between this group and the neighbours and their sports field?
Mat Wilson is a ForMission MA student and minister at Pavilion Christian Communty. He describes the day he walked towards the community centre where the Pavilion Church is based and noticed something very usual: “The gate to the park next to the church was broken and there were numerous shapes and sizes of caravans parked far away in the distance. I saw a few people moving between the caravans and then the realisation dawned. A sizable travelling community had positioned itself, without warning, on land that the church manages on behalf of the neighbourhood. Lots of thoughts raced through my mind. How did they get in to the field? What will the neighbouring community think and feel? How long will they be here? What should be the response from the church?
Before I could answer my own questions, some people within our neighbourhood had already taken to social media to share their fear, anxiety and apprehension, seeking a quick solution to what they considered was a major problem. The main sentiment aired was that the travellers must leave immediately before they began to cause trouble.
However, whilst social media reactions tend to heighten emotions and speed up responses, we wanted to slow things down a little. Rather than make a rash decision on what to do, a few people in the church gathered to listen, pray, talk and find unity on how to respond. Jesus said, ‘consider carefully how you listen’ (Luke 8:18) and James writes to the church community scattered far and wide that it is crucial to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Motivated by these verses we acknowledged that the first action concerned our own attitude. We wanted to be a people that suspended judgement. Whilst there would be different responses and reactions based on high emotion, we wanted to reserve our judgment and instead take the simple step of walking over to this new community to introduce ourselves….”
From Journal of Missional Practice, Winter 2017.