Church is beautiful when it works well

Ahead of the 2015 diocesan conference, Teulu Asaph caught up with Mandy Harvey:

With two O-levels to her name and no formal academic or theological training, Mandy Harvey, is a breath of fresh air within church leadership circles.  For her, God has equipped and qualified her to help churches make connections with their communities in new and relevant ways.  God has opened doors and given her unique gifts to bring church leaders together to work on social action projects.

Today, her work alongside other church leaders means that the reputation of the church in Swansea is restored.  The church is trusted in the city; it’s invited to take part in civic matters and the community values the role it plays.

It’s not been an easy journey and Mandy, often as the only woman in meetings, has had to fight for her voice to be heard.  Nowadays though, she’s an in-demand speaker, encouraging churches to move away from expecting people to come to them.  Instead she says: “We have to step outside the church building culture.  There can be no more orange-squash-and-rich-tea-biscuit-church, where refreshments are laid out and we simply expect people to come along.  The culture we live in now means that people don’t know what happens in Church; it’s an alien concept these days.  Use of the word “Jesus” is usually in swearing exasperation and people may only have a distant memory of God from school assemblies.”

One of the activities Mandy organised to “take” God outside the church walls was a carol concert at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea.  She invited the city’s premier league football team, members of the Ospreys Rugby Club, local celebrities and people came in their thousands.  The operations manager of the stadium was enthusiastic from the outset asking “Is this a religious thing?”

This sums up the situation – people are curious and we need to offer them safe opportunities to explore their curiosities, not necessarily within the four walls of a church building.  “We found,” Mandy said, “that people are naturally drawn to the love of God and the sense of belonging that church brings.  Churches need to find ways to reconnect with people, to offer them a sense of belonging that so many crave yet don’t know where to find it.  Why do we as churches make so many demands on people when they come along; why do we expect certain behaviours?  I’m not negative about church.  It’s beautiful when it works well!”

Mandy is an example of God using her skills and her circumstances to bring about change.  Her experience as a single Mum, bringing up three daughters, all now in their 20s, gave her a passion and compassion for those in similar circumstance.  “I could see single Mums like me struggling with the day to day challenges of life.  It’s incredibly difficult.  After my marriage ended, I got paid employment as an administrator for the church but it quickly became quick clear that this wasn’t my gift!

“My role evolved rapidly into working with people and that was the start of the work I now do.  It’s a reminder that God has equipped each of us with a gift and once we root ourselves in who we are created to be, we find our slot and that’s where God wants us to be.”

The Cinnamon Network

The Cinnamon Network helps equip and resource churches to meet the appropriate needs of their community.  It began at the end of 2010 in response to growing social need, public sector reform, increasing recognition of the role of voluntary organisations and the economic cuts. www.cinnamonnetwork.co.uk