You’ll have noticed that our town is growing. Perhaps you’ve been stuck in a traffic jam when Rye Street was closed, or driven out towards Manuden, Farnham or Little Hadham, and found yourself passing a huge building site. Since last Spring various zones of the long-foretold Stortford North development have finally been emerging.
I know people have a variety of reactions to these new developments. Many of us wonder how the town’s schools, doctors, car parks and other amenities will cope with a new influx of population. At the same time we can see how a nation where young people struggle to get onto the property ladder needs new supply, if housing is ever to be more affordable again. We may well lament the destruction of the countryside, yet recognise that in a world whose population consistently grows, people just need somewhere to live.
Whatever our mixed views about Stortford North, the fact is that thousands of human beings will be becoming our neighbours in the coming months and years, and Jesus calls us to love them. He invites us to welcome them in his name, and commissions us to witness to them. If we are trying to follow Jesus in our lives, all this simply comes with the territory.
And as the territory of Stortford North (Stortford Fields plus St Michael’s Hurst) lies within St Michael’s parish, we have been just beginning to think about how, as a church, we might engage with new residents. I’d like to invite you to think about whether you could be part of this.
Firstly, the diocese is holding a seminar on Outreach in New Housing Areas, in Biggleswade on the 18th of this month. I wonder if we could form a little group to go and gather ideas? Anyone interested?
We’re already developing some literature to give to new residents, to let them know about their parish church and the welcome we’d love to offer them. I think it would be great if we could form a Welcome Team to go up in pairs to streets of 2 the new estate as and when they are occupied. To knock on doors, say hello from St Michael’s, offer our literature, and see if newcomers might even like a chat? I wonder if you’d be up for that? Some members of the Pastoral and Outreach groups have already indicated willing, but the more the merrier. Training and prayer will be a vital preparation.
With Emily departing just as Stortford North is getting into gear, I also think we need to reflect about ministry provision within the parish. Whether in due course we should seek to have a new curate fully based at St Michael’s, as in the past. Or whether a new priest for the parish could have some ‘pioneering’ brief, to work with others in reaching out to the new housing developments. This needs much reflection, in PCC, starting from this month’s meeting, and in conversation with the diocese, if we do think something new is needed. Please can you give that your prayers?
And above all, let us pray for our town as a time of transition begins. For newcomers to Bishop’s Stortford, that this may be a place where they thrive. For all who live here, that changes can be faced with grace, even if not with delight. And for St Michael’s and all the churches of this place, that we can find the right ways to reach out to neighbours, new and old. That we may both witness to Christ, and receive his blessing from strangers who come among us. Thank you for joining me in such a prayer. And do let me know if you might help in this endeavour.