Why we must engage in social action

If we say we’ll pray for people without engaging practically, we’re missing out on a real opportunity, argues Phil Briggs

Creating a bridge into the community is a passion deep in the heart of Riversway Elim Church in Shrewsbury – and both church and community are reaping the rewards.

Former school teacher Phil Briggs took on the post of lead pastor at Riversway Elim after graduating from Regents Theological College and believes the church makes the biggest community impact when embracing local mission.

“We had a rather small congregation when I arrived in Shrewsbury in 2004 and we looked at whether we should sell the building and move to another area, but the valuation to sell was not right, so we decided to renovate and give it a go.”

Riversway Elim has become a beacon to the local area, with a vast array of outreach programmes in operation. “We have The Bridge, which is the collective name for our community action projects,” he explains. “We have an English language school, which is run by the lady who used to be in charge of the English language course at Regents.

“We currently have around 18 students on the course, predominantly made up of Syrian refugees and many of these are placed in our English language school by the local authority, some of whom came here as unaccompanied minors from the Calais migrant camp.

“We also run Happitots, which is a very traditional church toddler group. We have Natter box open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for people to drop in for a chat and a coffee, and we also have soup and a roll at lunchtime.

“We’re blessed with a number of computers here in our church building, so we link with the local job centre to get people to come here to do their CVs to help get them into employment.

“We’re also supported by the local housing association to run a ‘cooking on a budget’ course for people who are in need of encouragement to cook fresh and healthy food despite financial restrictions.

“We run a film club, a craft group, a money advice service, youth on a Friday night as well as a ladies keep-fit.”

Reaching people is Elim’s mission and Phil believes the community-based programme at Riversway is no different to that of the founder of the century-old Movement. “Elim started off as a revivalist movement,” he explains. “George Jeffreys went around preaching the gospel, that’s true, but he also prayed for people and for the sick to be healed.

“There are people still out there with needs, not just physical needs, but there are many needs in the community.

“A huge proportion of people are facing challenges but if we as a church just said, we’ll pray for you, but not engage in social action, then I think we miss a significant opportunity.

“The Apostle Paul said, ‘By all means win people.’ What we’re doing through our social action is what I consider to be all means. We must have a balance between what the community needs and what we as a church can do. Some of us have spiritual gifts, but we also have practical skills and talents; use them all I say.”

Such has been the success of Riversway Elim’s outreach programmes, the church has gained favour with many local agencies. “We are now very credible with the local education authority, local county council, town council, housing association and with many other agencies,” Phil reflects. “People need Jesus, but how we do that is key to what we’re doing in this area of Shrewsbury.”

Furthermore, the church’s volunteers are made up of a wide range of people, with the common grounding of people not having to believe to become part of the community. “The volunteers on our programme are made up of Christians and non-Christians, who all work together brilliantly,” he adds.

Phil’s call to ministry was clear, with God speaking to him, prompting him to leave his post as a teacher to pursue a Bible college degree.

“I was a school teacher for 20 years and I had a prophecy about ten years before I actually went to Bible college,” he says. “I was at a youth meeting and went forward for prayer, which was not something I would usually do. But for some unknown reason, I went forward and received a prophecy that I would be a pastor and shepherd one day.”

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