A friend of ours from Uganda came to London recently. It was his first time. When he heard that the city’s population was a little more than 8 million people, he exclaimed, “Eight million people all living in one place, London must be so friendly!”
When he accidentally stood on the left, rather than the right, of the escalator on the Underground, he soon discovered otherwise.
As with most global cities, people tend to love London or hate it. Most of us who live here yo-yo back and forth depending on whether the Tube is running on time. London is incredibly diverse, with more than 300 languages spoken, the most of any city in the world, and with different ethnic and socio-demographic groups living side-by-side. But its diversity is matched by its division. The UK has one of the worst records for social mobility among developed nations, and this disparity is particularly acute in our capital. It shocked us this year to find out that, increasingly in London, new-build apartment blocks with a mixture of private and social (government provided) housing have “poor doors”—alternative entrances to the same blocks for those in lower income groups.
In this context we started Inspire London, a church plant through Redeemer City to City with the vision of being a united and diverse community inspiring London with the good news of Jesus Christ. We thought that the gospel’s unique ability to bring together people from different walks of life into a loving community would be a compelling witness. For that reason, as we prayed and looked at areas with clear needs for a church, we felt increasingly drawn to the Old Street area in central London. It is a place of great potential, experiencing fast growth based around the so-called tech-hub “Silicon Roundabout,” but with significant division too: 63 percent of its residents live in government provided flats while the average private apartment sells at nearly £700k (more than $1 million).
Friends Turned Co-Pastors
When we became friends in school at the age of 13, it would be fair to say that neither Mark (Jackson) nor I (Pete Nicholas) envisioned doing a church plant together. After growing up not knowing Jesus Christ, both of us came to faith at university. However, after working in the city, we increasingly felt drawn to the idea of planting a church. Both of us enjoyed our jobs but felt a call to pastoral ministry. In time we became passionate about being involved in a city church that was on the one hand accessible to unbelievers, and on the other, keenly committed to integrating faith into city life. We had a shared vision to inspire London with the gospel, and to do this we believed that there is a pressing need for churches faithful to the gospel and creative in connecting it with life today. Of course, there’s a sense in which this effort is required in every generation. But today in the UK, the links between church and state are being redefined, so preaching Christ and living for him needs to be re-imagined for a fast-changing culture.
We started meeting in September 2013, and though we are still young as a church, God’s grace has been shown through the ups and the downs. We lost our venue only three months after launch, and four days before that, our Christmas guest service was challenging to say the least. But seeing a gospel community growing in unity and number is amazing. Where else but in the body of Christ would you find a guy who used to deal drugs (and who came to faith in our first few months) now living with a university graduate who works as an economist in the city? It may just be a glimpse, but we hope that it is a foretaste of what God will do as we seek to inspire this great city with the gospel.