Interview with Malcolm Jones, of the Ashingdon United Free Church
(31st January 2011)
Rochford Life: Malcolm, how are you described in your leadership role?
Malcolm: Well, I suppose people see me in a way as the public face of Ashingdon United Free Church but we have a leadership composed of five elders.
RL: How long have you been there?
Malcolm: It’s been about twenty years
RL: What’s happened to bring you to this position?
Malcolm: Well for fourteen years I worked with a missionary organisation called OM, Operation Mobilisation, for eleven of those years in France and then in Canada for three. Although I was involved in church leadership in some measure in France, having been there some years, it was in Canada that we really got drawn in to leadership, because the church we were in was so young and growing that anyone with any experience and maturity was automatically a leader. We learnt so much through OM.
RL: When did you go to OM?
Malcolm: I’d just been to University (Oxford studying Law). I was twenty three and I’d done a couple of summers with them and so I thought I would go out for a year. It ended up being fourteen. When I came back I had to catch up with some Law studies which took a little while. Prior to that we’d been in Canada for three years and our children were getting older and we felt led to come back here and eventually ended up in Rochford and then at Ashingdon United Free Church which was fairly small at the time – and got smaller – but God was overseeing it and we saw the building erected which was an amazing answer to prayer.
It was in May 1983 that the vision was presented to the church by a member of the church called Csaba Toth who was a groundwork contractor. The wooden structure with corrugated iron roof had become increasingly difficult to maintain. In November 1983 the New Church Fund was started with a first donation of £5. Plans proceeded through the ensuing years and by 1989 final planning permission was granted and the Fund had reached nearly eight thousand pounds. The membership was about twenty. By early 1990 bricks had been purchased and the footings put in and membership was now between 25 and 30. Much of the work was done by church volunteers. In 1991 there was a charitable donation of £10,000 through a will. Building work proceeded as finances became available over the coming years until it was completed and opened in 1999.
RL: You have come from OM, a faith missionary organisation, and you build a church at the bottom of the hill on the very edge of the built up area. You must have had a clear vision in mind to do that?
Malcolm: Well we certainly felt God had a purpose for that place. In OM we had learnt the principles of faith, that God answered prayer, that God would provide material things in answer to prayer. We arrived there with this small group that had this vision and felt that it would come to pass but not knowing how, but the money came in.
RL: So do you have a vision of what you feel God wants you as a church down there to achieve?
Malcolm: Well we are conscious of the fact that we are in a rural setting. Our congregation comes mainly from Rochford and Hockley. We don’t foresee expanding the worship area; we would like more facilities added on to do more, and depending on how God led us perhaps form another group somewhere else, and we’re quite open to that. We have been concentrating on establishing the church as it is, a functioning and vibrant church and I think we are at that point. We just try to reach more people and see how we accommodate them after that. In my own background there has been a lot of freedom in worship and participation, the faith aspect of believing God and trusting God and having a vision for church building. As well as OM, I’ve also learnt much from the ‘new churches’ and their way of worship and beliefs. As we look for freedom in worship so we look for people who have gifts to use them more and that is what I would really like to see happening more.
RL: How would you describe your church for someone who has never come across it before?
Malcolm: It is an independent church which is really a matter of history than anything else. It just happened to be that a hundred years ago an evangelist came from east London and held meetings in the area and a lot of people became Christians , someone gave a field and they built a building. The owners of the field set up a trust and that’s how it has been ever since. Over the years other like-minded people have joined us and united us in our vision and goals.
We have the freedom to follow the Bible as we see it in terms of how the church is run and leadership; we have a preference for plural leadership and we feel that is healthy and brings more gifts into leadership and we see ourselves as overseers trying to enable the members to do the work.
I suppose if everyone was there at the same time we’d have about eighty with us, but it’s usually more like sixty on a Sunday I would think. We have a children’s work which is going on during Sunday morning. The teens have two nights a week when they have a study group and more of a social group. Midweek we have a mums and toddlers group, a Care Club for the elderly, and an Art Club, but the main thing mid-week is the Home Groups.
This is where people can really open up and share more, bear each other’s burdens and pray for each other. We try to encourage people to do in the Home Group what we hope they’ll do in the church in terms of ministering to each other and helping each other.
We run an Alpha Course each year. We try and involve everyone and if they have new ideas ask them how they’d like to start it. For instance there is a lady in the church who is really convinced about ‘The Marriage Course’, which had the same origins as the Alpha Course, and she arranged it from beginning to end. She invited a couple from a church in Westcliff to run it and it was good.
RL: Well thank you Malcolm. Thank you for sharing something of your own life and background and of the life of Ashingdon United Free Church. That was very helpful.