‘Eden doesn’t just get under your skin, it becomes it’ by Sam Ward

Eden Openshaw (Manchester) began in May 2000. 18 years later, members of this team are still present on this estate sharing their faith and seeing God at work in their community. Sam Ward shares how, even after a team finishes, the DNA of Eden is hard to shake. 

‘I love our park. It has been our mission field for almost two decades. I have never lived more than 200 meters from it, and it’s currently my front garden as I live in the terraced houses that form its southern border. The park is an almost perfect rectangle of grass and trees with a play park and the obligatory bowling green that is guarded like a military compound. It is a joy to see the children that I saw master the monkey bars now teaching their own children the same skills. Longevity gives you gifts like these if you take the time to look. As we started Eden, it seemed obvious to our team that the park should be a focus. We trained football teams on the lumpy pitch each spring and ran festivals with large inflatables and face painting in the summer. We deployed detached youth workers there who dodged fireworks in autumn and supplied hot chocolate in winter.

‘It is fair to say that team life has changed far more quickly than the park has. Our team of twenty twenty-somethings has started to rust like the fence around the park, and some of us have moved on to love new places and people. We are considered a “legacy team” these days. There is no formalised team structure, meetings or leaders and our Eden hoodies have been replaced by knitwear. These days our park has become a place for play not programmes. It serves us more than we serve it. Our own children hang from the monkey bars and we picnic on the six days of sunshine that Manchester affords us each year. Mission has changed shape too and is far more aligned with the sustainable rhythms of everyday life as we continue to intentionally seek to root ourselves deeply in community.

‘My wife Nicci loves the trees and enjoys the seasons that provide an ever-changing colour for our front room. This year we planted a new tree – a Douglas fir – just opposite our house. For years I’d dreamed of lighting a Christmas tree in the corner of the park and running a cable from our Alfie’s bedroom across the road and down the lamppost, but I’d never gotten around to it. Plus, the risk of electrocution was high. This year, with help from Arden Lea Nurseries, we got the tree up nice and early. Two blokes from my street help me dig a hole and wedge the 12-foot fir in a semi-upright position while Nicci and some park families decorated it. Now for the celebrations. The park association began to bake, we mulled some grape juice and Ellie pulled together some shiny brass players that added significant credibility. We gathered just before dark, wrote our hopes and dream on decorations, sang carols and I got to share the greatest news of all time to a hundred or so park friends who came to celebrate the birth of the incarnation.

‘You can’t shake Eden DNA. It attaches itself with tattooed permanence. Incarnational ministry is not something that can easily be put down, it lives with you – way beyond the five-year commitment that Eden asks for. By its very nature incarnational mission becomes part of your flesh. Christ’s incarnation continues to blow my mind. The eternal, invisible and immortal God took on flesh in order to rescue and restore us. Christ was not bound by his flesh for the 30 years of his earthly ministry but for eternity. Knit together in his mother’s womb, Jesus will keep his skin forever with those scars that mark out his sacrifice. In the same way, incarnational ministry lives on in the lives of legacy teams. It doesn’t just get under your skin, it becomes it.’

Is God calling you to a new home? Join Eden and be part of a movement of sacrificial Christians who live long-term in deprived communities. Visit joineden.org today to find out more.