“Almost half of Britain’s high streets are dominated by chain stores, lack unusual shops and are at risk of becoming ghost towns. The findings of a survey by the New Economics Foundation suggests that the recession has hit such towns the hardest. It warned that these ‘clone towns’ have emptied during the downturn. The survey found that Cambridge was the most ‘identikit’ high street, with nine varieties of shop, while Whitstable in Kent had the greatest number of one-off shops.”
Joanna Sugden in The Times 15/09/10
Poor Cambridge! An historic university city has been reduced to an ‘identikit’ high street. It probably only happened this way because in the early 60’s there was a planning disaster and the medieval buildings at the heart of the town were demolished to make way for ubiquitous new development, destroying the core identity of one of our foremost cities. So although Cambridge still retains much grace and charm, with its grand university buildings and riverside houses, the centre of town is not part of that. If you go there you could look around and think that you could be anywhere: a ‘clone town’. How sad for an outstanding English city! And we all know there are many other ‘clone towns’ with no grand architectural heritage to redeem them.
Whitstable, a small seaside town in Kent, stands in stark contrast as a unique and interesting place – and according to this survey, fruitful and more likely to prosper. It has unique character, beauty and interest, with local merchandise, arts and crafts on display. On the one occasion I visited it definitely left a pleasing impression on me, with its beautiful washboard buildings and seaside colours. Though I didn’t take any photos of the High St, these pictures of the architecture give you the feel of the North Kent seaside, a special place 🙂
Isn’t that interesting? Of course its not all about shops or buildings, or even economics, but I do believe places have unique callings – every place has a God-given role and identity, a part to play in the make-up of the whole nation. Jesus Himself spoke to cities as if they were people with personalities and destinies: ‘Chorazim… Bethsaida… O Jerusalem, Jerusalem’. Martin Scott’s teaching on the 7 city types of Revelation as described in his book Impacting the City has also been more than helpful in understanding this.
Our role as His people is to align with the heavenly calling, pulling the places we live through into their divine destiny. But often even our congregations have taken on formulae and models from outside, ways of ‘doing church’, copying things that have been sucessful in other places, rather than listening to the cry of the land, recognising the pattern in creation all around us and the indicators of what our individual geography is made to reflect. Our songs are imported from international worship streams rather than being homegrown – an authentic expression of our personal faith and experience – and the multiple denominations reflect a similar DNA in different places across the country, rather than coming together with others in the geography to bring redemption to the mutual locality and together represent the Body of Christ there.
In the same way that we need words from the Lord that speak into our own hearts and lives, there are specific words from the Lord to be heard for our home-towns and cities. There are giftings and personalites to be developed and areas of weakness to be recognised and addressed – often through partnership with other places that will help and compliment us. This requires humility, a recognition that we cannot breakthrough on our own and we are not made to be self-sufficient!
In 1998 it was prophesied that the people of God in this nation were called to make “a sound to attract heaven rising from every town, city and village in the UK”. Around the same time a leader from the Argentinian revival landed in Britain and heard the Lord say, “In Argentina I showed you a model of church for cities, but here I will show you a model of church for a nation”.
This word struck me afresh as I was driving home from Wales today, returning from a womens’ conference in Llanelli… which is just a poor, hidden part of South Wales. But spiritually this is a place that punches way above its weight, a place living up to its calling to be a ‘mouthpiece’ and ‘sending place to the nations’ with an extraordinary expression of church carrying fiery Welsh passion and reaching out to the poor and needy both locally and internationally, as well as a mission organisation based in the town. There is nowhere else quite like it! And there is nowhere else like Loughborough or Malvern or Newport – or Whitstable! So perhaps as we begin to discover and flow with the callings and destinies of the places in which we are planted – and to connect to one another across the land – it will also begin to be true that a model of church for a nation is being revealed – for ‘the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many (and varied!) they form one body’!
This is the time for the sound of many voices to be heard. There can be a sound that attracts heaven coming from our cities, towns and villages, one voice rising from many different places, a UK choir singing in harmony.
“In that day I will respond, says the Lord. I will respond to the heavens and the heavens will respond to the earth and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and the oil, and they will respond to Jezreel (which means ‘God plants’). I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one’ and I will say to those called ‘Not my people’ ‘You are my people’, and they will say, ‘You are my God’. (Hosea 2v21-23).
God has planted His people in the garden of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland: we are the sons of the kingdom planted in the field, many and varied, different and colourful, placed by the Gardener. May there be a sound to which heaven can respond… and may there be a harvest.