Urban Nights – Church on the streets

The Urban Nights projects started in October 2004 when Oxygen workers and members of Christchurch New Malden responded to the situation where gangs of young people were hanging around using the small garden at the side of the church in an evening. These young people were the troublesome local young people, known for graffiti and anti social behaviour. However rather than seeing their presence as a problem some of the workers saw it is an opportunity to get to know the young people, thus urban nights was born.

Urban nights is simple, a team of workers sit outside the church on a Thursday night giving away Hot chocolate and cakes (Baked by the people in the church). Over the weeks and months they build great relationships and friendships with each other, talking about different issues and problems the young people face, as well as get them involved in local issues and concerns.

“I love church and I love church people, they are always so friendly. They listen to you and don’t judge you. They are easy to talk to and keen to help out. I particularly love the Hot Chocolate and Cakes they give me”
Danny, Aged 16

The Urban Nites project has now expanded to different parts of Kingston Borough, with workers and volunteers now coming from a range of churches, it has been featured in the local press as well as on Radio 4. The story below (posted a couple of weeks ago on the Oxygen website) comes from Mandy Marshal one of Oxygen’s volunteers who first helped Urban Nights New Malden get underway….

A New Church in New Malden
The week had begun in a slightly surreal way when Urban Nites volunteer Kirsty was apprehended by a gang of young people in Woolworths to check if she was going to church on Thursday night. Despite racking her brain for what church meeting or event was underway she couldn’t remember until one of the young people added how they were looking forward to seeing everyone cos they looked forward to the good hot chocolate and chat at Urban Nites.

Two days later Kirsty joined the rest of the team outside the church for a strange yet enlightening time. The evening started and almost immediately ended when ‘O’ and ‘J’ came, two guys who normally cause a whirlwind and as expected the whirlwind duo set off to their usual antics by getting in and chasing up the stairs and refusing to leave the building. After being politely but firmly asked to leave the building they both moved straight away. O headed straight out but ‘J’ loudly complaining he picked up a fire extinguisher and held it ominously over the stairs. Calmly yet firmly Urban Nites worker Mandy just looked at him and said ‘J!’. J looked back at Mandy, said sorry, put the extinguisher back and headed back outside and all breathed a sigh of relief.

After O and J’s whirlwind the rest of the night went off really well with all the young people doing a picture, playing footy, before gathering to ask some straight to the point questions about God: what happens when we die? If God created Adam and Eve and they had two sons – who did they marry? Was it incest? Whilst some chatted others shared about problems they were facing in their lives including family rejection and potential homelessness. Those who didn’t want to talk involved themselves in a great Urban Nights graff (street talk for mural!) putting all the gang’s tags at the bottom and endeing it with “our church 06”. As they drew and others chatted it brought back memories of the first nights when they would write their graff names on paper and then immediately rip it up and throw it away in case their tags were recongised. Yet here, was one of them writing all their names and signing it off as their very own church.

As the usual two Urban Nites hours came to a close all gathered together to close in prayer. The prayer book was passed around and all contributed something whether in the form of a drawing or words. The leaders all stilled themselves to pray for what was written in the book when suddenly one of the whirlwind twins ‘O’ prayed followed and then one of the girls ‘T’ prayed for the others.

Maybe Kirsty did attend a church meeting that Thursday night but maybe it wasn’t quite as she expected. For during the evening she and the others had engaged in conversation about God, people had expressed themselves creatively and forgiveness had been asked and given before all closed in prayer together. This is church on the streets, this is urban nite church.

Find out more or watch an Urban Nites video at: