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Theory to Practice at Church on the Street

Blog — 1st April 2022

Theory to Practice at Church on the Street

Undergraduate students on our Christian Perspectives on Community Development module recently had the opportunity to see how theory is turned into practice at Church on the Street in Burnley. Beth Ford reports on an inspiring trip.

On Wednesday 23rd March, Anna Whitfield, NTC’s Community Development lead, took over 15 undergraduate students and alumni to visit the Church on the Street (COTS) hub, in Burnley. During the field trip, students were able to see first-hand just how Community Development is being put into practice locally by NTC alumnus, Pastor Mick Fleming.

The Theory  

During the past 6 weeks, the cohort of undergraduate theology students have been exploring an introduction to the theory and practices of Community Development from a Christian perspective. The group started by looking at the biblical narrative about how we might see the ‘kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven,’ by considering what is meant by community and how they might come to thrive and by asking difficult questions:

  • What does a healthy community look like – what does it mean to live in Shalom?
  • What are the values that underpin community development in practice?
  • How do we empower people within communities to introduce and develop these values

The unit is fully immersive, both theoretically and practically, which led to the trip to COTS. Students from NTC were invited to see just how Mick and the COTS team have enabled their understanding of biblical community to be put into practice in 21st century Burnley.

The Practice

NTC students took a tour of the operation to understand the full range of services offered. In addition, they had the opportunity to meet staff, volunteers and visitors.

The exceptional work Pastor Mick and his team do in Burnley has been highlighted in the BBC news several times since COVID hit the UK. The COTS Hub, funded by generous donations after the first report, was opened less than a year ago. Despite its infancy, the invaluable services offered and noted below are necessary in order to address just some of the gaps in services in Burnley.

During student engagement with visitors to the hub, several individuals willingly shared elements of their stories. Sadly, phrases like “I’m a bad one” became familiar, however, the genuine appreciation individuals felt for what COTS offer was evident. COTS work closely with several partners, including the NHS, to provide basic medical attention, GP and mental health support. Individuals visit the hub to eat, drink, shower, rest, chat, receive medical attention, food parcels, rehabilitation or housing advice…the list of services is endless and continues to grow as additional needs are identified.  Students were able to hear about just some of the challenges faced in communities overwhelmed by poverty, homelessness and addiction.

Despite this, one of the highlights of the trip was recognising the hope, equality and value of dignity offered to each individual we spoke to. Every individual was able to offer us drinks and food – as equals – since no charge is applied to the breakfast provided each day. Additionally, individuals were offered access to basic services like haircuts.

Students will return to class this week with lots to discuss. The next step on their journey of learning will be to expand their learning by putting theory into practice. Having considered what Community Development looks like from a Christian perspective at COTS, students will have the opportunity to consider how services there might be further developed. The Trustees of COTS will visit NTC at the end of April, at which point students will be able to present their proposals and enable COTS to consider how these might be practically introduced in their operation.

Anna and all those students who attended send their huge appreciation to the team at COTS:

“Thank you for showing us around and sharing more about what services are offered. In particular, our thanks go to Chris, Sarah, Kevin and Caz for helping us to see where this fits within the Christian narrative, both biblically and contextually.”

Community Development at NTC

Do you feel called to make a change through faith-based community development? Are you ready to learn more about transforming the world around you? If so, NTC is the place for you!

In addition to our undergraduate Youth and Community BA (Hons) Theology course, this September we are launching our new MA Theology (Community Development and Social Change) pathway, which will give you the opportunity to explore new ways to re-see and reimagine the world and your relationship to it. This spiritual, philosophical, political and practical journey is intentionally deeply personal and yet collectively travels this journey with others at the same time.

If you would like to learn more, join us at one of our upcoming Open Events (Undergraduate Open Day 26th April or Postgraduate Open Evening 17th May) or contact Anna Whitfield.