To tell the story properly, we need to begin in 2004 with a young lady named Sarah.
Sarah loves Jesus and she loves the people he has made, especially the littlest ones. In 2004 Sarah passed through an area called Gracemount, which lies along the south-east side of Edinburgh. Gracemount is actually a scheme, one of many council estates created by the government to house low-income Scots. Like every other scheme, Gracemount has its unique history and its unique issues. Though most of its residents would not want to live anywhere else, it is for many of them a place of poverty of various kinds. According to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, Gracemount ranks as ‘Most Deprived’. It is rife with abuse and addiction, irresponsibility and abandonment. It is a place in desperate need of hope.
As Sarah passed through Gracemount she watched police accost several boys for various juvenile crimes. Her heart went out to them. As she probed further, she found crowds of children who were lonely, abused and needy. She realised that, for all their needs, the most prominent lack was spiritual, for most had never heard of Jesus.
Sarah and her brother began a recreational basketball programme in Gracemount that would provide the children with something to do, something to look forward to, something to distract them. They included a Bible lesson halfway through each game, to ensure that the children would hear of Jesus. This programme led to others. More and more children began to attend these programmes, which she called Switch – a name about switching a heart of stone for a heart of flesh.
She sought out these children, she gathered them, she taught them, she loved them. Soon she even moved in among them, settling herself into their community, befriending their families. But there was one concern: the neighbourhood had no church that was reaching out to these children. So, even if they did want to follow Jesus, what could they do? Where could they go?
In 2012, Sarah married Andy Prime and she joined him in his apartment in a different part of the city. But she was homesick, longing to be back among the people she loved, so she and Andy relocated back to Gracemount.
At that time Andy was thriving in his position as associate pastor at Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh’s foremost Baptist church. This church had once been pastored by his grandfather Derek. Already associate pastor at a fine church, Andy could look forward to some day becoming senior pastor there or at another church. And for good reason – he is gifted, a talented preacher, an able expositor, a charismatic leader.
For a year, Sarah continued to work in Gracemount and Andy commuted into the city to serve Charlotte Chapel. And this is the part where I suddenly barge into the story. In 2013, I visited Scotland with a ministry called 20schemes. This ministry is committed to planting churches for Scotland’s poorest people. I had heard of it, had heard of how the Lord was at work through them, and wanted to see this for myself.
On that trip we met Sarah and were deeply affected as she told her story. She was sharing the gospel and seeing people express interest and even come to faith. But there was no pastor, no church, no Christian community for them. So I did what I do: I started typing. I concluded by asking readers: ‘Will you pray with me that the Lord will send out his labourers?’
Many people read those words, but one person was full-out accosted by them. God used them to stir one young man to ask, ‘Could that labourer me? Is this what I’m meant to do?’ That little blog post set into motion something amazing.
As it happens, that young man was Andy. He was struck by the reality that he lived in a context of deprivation, but ministered in a context of abundance. He knew someone had to go to that neighbourhood and plant a church there. However, as far as he was concerned, he was to be the sender and someone else the goer. But now, for the first time, he found himself wondering whether he had it all wrong. Was he missing the opportunity in his own neighbourhood?
He had a lot of questions to wrestle through. Didn’t he have extraordinary opportunities at Charlotte Chapel for influence and career? Hadn’t he committed to ministering to that congregation for the foreseeable future? He sought counsel and was assured by many that he was foolish to even consider scheme ministry, that it would be a waste of his talent. But his grandfather spoke wisely, assuring him the Lord would bring clarity as he and Sarah made it a matter of earnest prayer.
Sarah was convinced long before Andy was. She encouraged him to walk the streets of Gracemount while prayerfully pondering the rhetorical questions in Romans 10 including: ‘how are they to hear without someone preaching?’ He prayed, and as he prayed the conviction grew. Why shouldn’t he be that someone, when he already lived among them?
He made up his mind. He would resign from his position and commit himself to Gracemount. He was convinced God had called him to found a church right there in Gracemount. A church was born.
In 2014, Andy partnered with 20schemes and for three years trained for a whole new kind of ministry. He forged even deeper connections within his neighbourhood, he shared the gospel, he gathered a team, he found a local community centre that was willing to rent space to them. On 2 April, he and several others were commissioned by nearby Niddrie Community Church and, a week later, another small team from Charlotte Chapel. On Easter Sunday this year, they held their very first service as Gracemount Community Church. The Bible was at the centre of it all – the Word was read, preached, prayed and sung. There was nothing fancy or gimmicky in any of it. And, for exactly that reason, I could not have been more blessed or more encouraged. It was an unusual honour and a great pleasure for me to be able to be there and I marvelled that God had allowed me to play even a small part in something so amazing.
I slipped out at the final amen, just before the church began its time of fellowship, and as I did so I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude. Gracemount has a church in its community, by its community, and for its community. It has a church that will faithfully preach the gospel to its community. Such churches are Gracemount’s best hope, Scotland’s best hope, the only answer to the deep spiritual deprivation of the country and its communities.
Of course, as much as this launch service marks the culmination of a long process, the work in Gracemount has really only just begun. And beyond Gracemount there are more than 100 other schemes to reach, communities with absolutely no gospel witness. They, too, need Jesus – so they, too, need churches. I wonder who will go now, who will go next. And I wonder who will help them, who will equip them, who will finance them, who will send them. Maybe it is even someone reading this. Maybe, just maybe, it’s you.
Andy Prime will be speaking during the third week of the Keswick Convention this summer www.keswickministries.org
This article is an edited version of Tim Challies’ blog ‘A World of Misery at My Door’. www.challies.com/articles/a-world-of-misery-at-my-very-door-a-story