St. Anselm, Belmont - Abraham’s Tent: finding sacred commonality in a fortress of pillows and blankets

Author: Andy Walton

Date: 24 September 2014

By Beth Green in association with The Revd Christine Robinson...

Upon Christine's arrival at St. Anselm’s in 2010, the church building was a little tired and unloved. Indeed, as she tells me about this particular church, I get the sense that Christine and her family are serving an adventurous, Spirit filled and Spirit-led church. Leading a congregation of around 90 worshippers of all ages, Christine has learned to go into each service "expecting the unexpected." Having seen the culture of the church transformed, St. Anselm’s is now facing up to the future and what it means to be ‘present and engaged’ in their particular context in Harrow borough.

Situated in the middle of what was once ‘Metroland’, Christine describes her local area as a ‘society of columns’ in which there is little mixing. The reticence on the part of the established local community to openly welcome and accept the changing demography is matched by a feeling of fear of assimilation that compels ethnic communities to cling evermore tightly onto their distinct identity. This divided community presents a profound challenge to St. Anselm’s and its mission.

To Christine, being ‘present and engaged’ means more than inter faith engagement. It means living in community with other faiths, while holding to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission to preach the Gospel. She says, “I want to tell people about Jesus. Christianity has got it right with the Gospel and I want to share that”. She feels compelled not simply to engage in inter faith engagement for the sake of it, but in the knowledge that the answer is in the Gospel. She recounts 1 Peter 3:15 which states; “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

This gentleness and respect is embodied in St. Anselm’s ministry in which children are central. Christine has a good relationship with the local school, where 90 per cent of then children are from Hindu families. This ministry comes to life in a little corner of the imposing church building - Abraham’s Tent. Once a forgotten home of spiders and broken ladders, Abraham’s Tent is now a sacred space where common threads between different faith groups are found. Misconceptions and fears are broken down as through story, understandings of Abraham, and experiences of journeys are shared. In this corner, Christine says, “Everyone has something to offer”, and commonality trumps difference.

Admittedly, Christine still faces many frustrations and challenges. Community groups flounder because certain needs are met elsewhere outside the church. There is a deep desire to avoid complacency and individualistic worship and a will to move away from asking the question, "have I been blessed?" and think instead, "how have I blessed?" during the service.

Big ‘plans to bless’ are being born and Christine hopes that the future will see her congregation and the wider community coming into closer relationship, and more importantly, that the Kingdom of God will continue to unfold more fully in this community and bring down columns that have stood for too long.