Street By Street

If you were to ask people on the train from London what they know about East Grinstead I am guessing that you might get some interesting answers! The best-informed might possibly tell you that East Grinstead…
-Is on the Greenwich Meridian Line.
-Lost 108 people in a bombing raid, during the Second World War, that flattened the town’s cinema.
-Has a pioneering plastic surgery unit, at the Queen Victoria Hospital, founded by Sir Archibald McIndoe. Nearby there was a pub where McIndoe’s patients met and formed The Guinea Pig Club.
-Has a historic High Street on which, in July 1556, three Protestant martyrs were burned alive for their faith.
-Is the town where the famous Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas" was written.

They might not know that for two years now members of Jubilee Community Church have been walking the, almost 500, streets of the town and praying for those who live in them. During lockdown in 2020, what began as the government’s ‘exercise hour’ provided the opportunity for church members, in groups and alone, to walk and pray the town’s streets. Some people found it challenging to begin with but, as one prayer walker said: “It became a real joy, walking and meeting people in their gardens or cleaning their cars who were friendly and willing to chat”.  Another prayer walker noted that, “Praying for our community and those around us has been integral to the shaping of God’s church. Whilst we are so used to praying for family, friends and colleagues from the comfort of our homes, when it comes to ‘the sharp end’, who does that?”

As we walked and prayed, I have been reading “The Way Under Our Feet” by Graham Usher. In this fascinating book, Graham explains why walking is supremely good for the heart, soul and body. Two passages link directly to the praying we’ve been doing.

Graham writes: “Jesus sent his twelve disciples out walking to local communities so they might spend time noticing what was going on and what was affecting people (Matt. 10.1-15; Mark 6.7-13; Luke 9.1-6). He warned them that it would not be easy when they proclaimed that ‘the kingdom of God has come near’. They were to respond to local need, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. Luke also records that 70 disciples were sent out in pairs and as they went, they were to pray asking ‘the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’.”

Graham’s book reminded me that “Prayer walking is also about love. It’s a moving way of showing care for a neighbourhood and it can happen anywhere – in beautiful, ordinary or run-down places. All sorts of things can be the raw material for reflection: shop frontages, derelict alleyways, advertisements, graffiti, old statues, a community notice board, for sale signs, a tree-lined street . . . Listening quietly for God’s voice, being open to God’s prompting, trying to see with God’s eyes as we smell the air and taste the flavour of a place may bring the gift of on-site insight. The Holy Spirit dwells in us and everywhere and prayers of thanksgiving and concern, words of reconciliation and healing gestures will bring transformation to our communities. I’ve found prayer walks an invaluable way of getting to know an area.”

Those who have walked the streets of East Grinstead have found that, in certain places, the Spirit made them “conscious of hidden stories” and “enemy forces” in some houses and led them to pray “for restored relationships, against domestic abuse and for lost souls and prodigals”. Another prayer walker said, “The Holy Spirit really inspired my prayers as I walked and I found myself earnestly praying for God to bless marriages, provide for those who’d lost jobs, peace for families where parents were having to home school, comfort for those who were on their own and suffering anxiety, and healing for those who were sick”. Some prayer walkers felt a growth in compassion for the people of our town. One wrote: “I found the whole experience really rewarding and, through it, gained a real love and compassion for the people in East Grinstead which hasn’t really left me.  I really recommend it.” Others have developed a real sense that street prayer has sown seeds that God is watering by his Spirit, that we need to be open to the next steps (pun intended) and that we will see fruit from walking and praying.