When Forestdale on the border of Croydon and the Kent countryside was developed in the early 1970s, hundreds of homes were built, but no church. A plot of land had been identified for a church, but nothing came of it. For fifty years a community has established and grown up without a public and visible Christian witness.
Pastor Joseph Bediako moved to Forestdale five years ago while ministering at Beulah Family Church in Thornton Heath, on the other side of the Borough of Croydon, and was distressed that there was nowhere for people to worship. To him it made no sense to have a community this size without a church.
He started praying about the situation with his church he pastored. At the same time he established a kid’s club running from the Forestdale primary school. The headteacher, appreciative of the good work being done with the children, mentioned to Pastor Joseph that the school building could be made available for any further activities. “We prayed and God spoke,” he says. Over time a vision to plant a church on the estate emerged. “One of the most significant things related back to Jesus’ words, ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.’ This confirmed to us that God would do it.”
Joseph says, “My desire is to plant where the church is least represented. Sometimes God shakes things up.” Planting a new church is a demanding, messy challenge, establishing a new worshipping community, culture and infrastructure from the ground up. With the hard work comes the new opportunity to set a clear vision with a small and motivated team. In Forestdale, the new church has committed from the outset to serve the community practically and selflessly. The first vital step, with support and training from London City Missionaries, is to make weekly visits to people on the estate to introduce the new church as a caring and supportive presence in the community.
Today six people – five people from the local community with the encouragement and support of LCM missionary Patrick Kangi – are going from door to door with an invitation to the new church. For now, it’s a low-level friendly introduction, letting residents know that there is a church meeting in the school and that they’d be very welcome. It’s the first time they have visited homes on this part of the estate. Joseph is paired with Maria, who has lived here most of her life and knows the area well. There’s neighbourly chat – how long have you lived in Forestdale? – and talk about children’s activities and family where it is appropriate. On this first visit there is not a deliberate effort to turn the conversation to matters of faith. Joseph on occasion asks if they have a faith, but doesn’t try to probe further or to persuade.
Where there is an interest, they’ll make a follow up visit and initiate a faith conversation. For now, the aim is to make a connection with every household in on the estate. Joseph and Maria both exude warmth, the kind that can make an immediate connection on the doorstep. For a Tuesday afternoon, there a quite a lot of people at home. Around two-thirds of the residents here are older. Most politely receive the invitation, but are non-committal about visiting. Some are already established in churches elsewhere in the borough. At one door, the first question is an abrupt: “You are not Jehovah’s witnesses are you?” It transpires that the family has in the past been badly damaged. Joseph and Maria don’t react to the hostility, but respond reassuringly. By the end of the hour, there have been no miracles, just establishing a warm connection with people that may be developed later on. Nevertheless, Maria is brimming with excitement, full of doing the Lord’s work. It’s still something that takes her well out of her comfort zone. “I would have never believed I could do something like this”.