The New York Times rated Birmingham in the top twenty places to visit in 2012, consolidating the city’s reputation as a major tourist destination, replete with world class cultural, entertainment and gastronomic attractions.
But beyond the vibrant nightlife and überchic shopping destinations like the Mailbox, there’s a darker side to the city.
Gangs deal drugs, homeless asylum seekers surf sofas and impoverished families struggle. Loneliness haunts both bedsits and penthouse apartments. In this city, both champagne and tears flow, and an angry restlessness, erupting vividly in the rioting of 2011, is stoked up by the glaring inequalities illustrated by all the conspicuous consumption.
At Jesus Centres, every kind of person is welcomed. The Birmingham Jesus Centre will attract both the kind of people who’ve been shopping in Selfridges, and those who have been shoplifting in Aldi (or, for that matter, in Selfridges). It’s the kind of place where the haves, and the have-nots mingle, and where you’re not judged for your past or the label you are now wearing. It’s a cool oasis of kingdom life, a peaceful space in the bustling heart of the city where you can catch your breath, find yourself, and get a bit of help when you need it.
After looking for a suitable property for a couple of years, we thought we had found a good place in the Jewellery Quarter. It wasn’t to be. A few local businessmen didn’t fancy a drop-in on their doorstep: they conspired to thwart us. We won the support of the council for our plans but, in a desperate move, a property speculator gazumped the property from under our noses.
Disappointment! We were back to square one, or so it seemed. From the jaws of defeat, however, we snatched a victory. We were led by the Spirit to identify the ideal area we wanted for our building. Eventually, we found a vacant property.
The value of a place is all “location, location, location”, and it seemed God wanted us to have a far more central location than the Jewellery Quarter. Now we’re going to be a stone’s throw from the Bullring and New Street, right smack in the heart of the city.
It’s no time for resting on our laurels. There’s work to do – to inform and motivate the Jesus Fellowship congregation in Birmingham, apart from anything else. A Jesus Centre is effective if it has a crew of volunteers who are engaged and willing, and we’ll struggle if the congregation doesn’t “buy in”.
So far, our people in Brum have showed they are up for it. Financial giving is up significantly. A “Jesus Centre fair” will take place soon, when we will hear about what Jesus Centres are like from people who are doing it already. A broader spectrum of people are being brought into planning talks, and young people especially are being invited to key management and operations meetings. Jesus Centres need to be hubs of youthful energy and enthusiasm for Jesus and his cause.
We seek to demonstrate the kingly rule of Jesus in a modern city
It’s time to dream and to work our imaginations: what shall we do at our centre? After school clubs? Lunches for office workers in the building above? Most importantly – what is the Spirit saying about the role of the Jesus Centre in this sprawling city?
Many challenges loom. How might we meet some of the gaps in homelessness provision created by budget cuts – without simply allowing the government to use us as a convenient means of outsourcing their responsibilities? We will encounter many practical challenges along the way as well as spiritual challenges. This is to be expected as we seek to demonstrate the kingly rule of Jesus in a modern city.
Yet the same Jesus who is the source of our inspiration will also provide what we need for the tasks ahead.
Laurence is a writer, fundraiser, and leader in the Jesus Fellowship. He lives in a Christian Community house in Birmingham and supports Jesus Centres around the UK. Read his blog at: laurencecooper.wordpress.com