The words Asset Based Community Development are creeping in to the official’speak’ of many Organisations. They are finding a place within the church too and at the General Assembly of 2017 the principles of ABCD were referred to by the Moderator and in the Reports of the Church and Society Council, the Ministries Council and the Panel of Review and Reform. The approach has had central place at the last two Big Conversations organised by the Priority Areas Committee and ABCD is one of four modules of the Priority Areas Academy of Learning, which brings insights developed within priority area congregations to the wider church.
In 2014 Hamilton Presbytery began to ‘pilot’ a three year initiative, The New Connections Project, to test if ABCD had a valuable contribution to make to the mission of the local church. The Project was invited to work in nine different Lanarkshire communities. It drew on the missional thinking of Raymond Fung, who in a little booklet ‘The Isaiah Vision’ (1992) called on Christians to join in partnership with others of all faiths and none to embrace the vision of human flourishing contained in Isaiah Ch 65 v 20-23.
Congregations in priority areas have often adopted one of two positions in relation to their parishes. They are either purveyors of charity, in the form of food banks, thrift shops, soup kitchens, or providers of community projects of many kinds. Both of these approaches are driven by a deeply embedded theology of Servanthood. They are often perceived as being the church at its best and have made a positive contribution to their communities over many years.
However, ABCD calls for a very different relationship in which local people are regarded, not in terms of their deficits or needs or as passive recipients of our services, but rather as partners and key contributors to the flourishing of their own communities. It is an approach which resolutely refuses to ‘do for’ and instead ‘works with’ local people as equal partners and seeks to build a new relationship which is respectful of the abundant gifts which are to be found in every community.
Perhaps the key to the ABCD approach is the simple technique known as ‘Appreciative Inquiry’. These are conversations with local people which undercover the talents and skills within these communities and identify the life giving activities which could be developed through members of the churches and the wider community working together in partnership.
In the New Connections Project the activities developed ranged from Parent and Toddler groups and Craft groups to a Community Choir and central to each have been the friendships forged as people from church and the wider community have worked together on a shared agenda. Although many of the activities took place in church buildings there was recognition too that church members may be called to journey out from their buildings and become involved in what God is already accomplishing within existing local community groups and activities.
This is a very new approach. It was not always welcomed and clearly some congregations lacked the necessary capacity, health, vitality and commitment to enable it to flourish, however where these favourable conditions were in place there were remarkable stories of lives touched and changed and congregations discovering newness of life.
Some of these stories, which have an almost biblical quality, witnessed to the continuing reality of God in the lives of people who the church rarely connects with and to the life giving contribution they can make to a Church crying out for renewal.
The final report of the New Connections Project will be available in February on the Hamilton Presbytery website. A short animated film is available now on the Presbytery’s Facebook page.