You have no doubt heard that Oldham is the most deprived town in England, beating Salford, Middlesborough, Walsall and Liverpool to win the dubious honour. The town has the second lowest average wages in the UK and is in the top 5 for unemployment with figures twice the national average. Educational attainment fares similarly and local health has become a national concern. On paper, why would anyone move to Oldham?
Ultimately, the headlines are just one side of the story. For one, Oldham has the second lowest house prices in the country. In effect, one needs very little to get a property that would, in other areas, be well beyond normal means. Beyond this, the town centre has just been through a £37m regeneration project. The old town hall has been turned into a Cinema complex with a range of restaurants and cafes. New sports facilities have been built in the town and Oldham’s Alexandra Park has previously won the Green Flag award recognising its amazing victorian landscaping and architecture. The town has won multiple Britain in Bloom awards and new developments are under construction.
Of course, despite the unemployment prevalent in the town, there are naturally still jobs for doctors, dentists, nurses, teachers and the like. In fact, there are now £25,000 tax-free bursaries available for those who want to train to teach in Oldham. NHS dental surgeries are in short supply and the Royal Oldham Hospital is a major NHS employer. Typically, such professionals work in the town and commute in from elsewhere. However, with house prices so low, it’s possible to live in the town to find expenses considerably reduced. The cost of living in Oldham is half the national average.
Aside from these things, however, Oldham Bethel Church is praying for mission-minded, gospel-hearted people to commit to Oldham. Though there is much to commend the town, the needs are also great. Large swathes of the town are dominated by Islam, with once thriving church buildings now converted into mosques. Many new mosques continue to be built. Outside of these areas, there are large estates populated largely by white working-class Brits with no gospel witness in their midst.
Oldham Bethel Church is sited in a Pakistani and Bangaldeshi Muslim area of the town. The borough’s largest mosque is a few hundred yards behind the church building. However, in close proximity to the church, are a number of white estates. The church is making real inroads with the local Muslim community through our English Classes and regular Cultural Evening (see our website for more details). We are also conscious that the most effective way to reach the local estates will be to plant gospel-centred churches among them. Our long-term aim is to grow the church in Glodwick and maintain a gospel witness to the local Muslim population whilst multiplying churches to reach different areas of the town.
Our church is made up of different people from different parts of the world. We have local Oldham folk and Brits from other parts of the UK. We have Caribbeans, Asians and Africans meeting with us. We have a large work amongst Iranian people and translate most of our service into Farsi. We are keen to mirror the unity of the gospel – which cuts across ethnic, national, cultural and class lines – to build a church that expresses the gospel in word, deed and makeup.
If this sounds exciting to you, then there are a number of opportunities available at Bethel Church. If you have a desire to take the gospel to the urban unreached, then we would love to talk with you about how you can help further our aims to plant on local estates. If you have a heart to reach the nations here in the UK, then we would love to talk to you about the huge opportunities we have to reach Persians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. If you have a heart to see the church built in such a way that it reflects the gospel both in its purity of doctrine and diversity of people, then we would love to speak with you.
We are currently looking for a Ministry Trainee to join us in Oldham. The role will be a commitment for one year with the opportunity for a second year by mutual consent. You will gain an understanding of ministry in a multicultural and diverse setting and learn valuable new skills that you will be able to utilise elsewhere. You will engage in frontline evangelism to Muslim people and learn how to minister to people from deprived communities. For more details on the role please see the North West Partnership (advert download) or FIEC.
If you are interested in planting amongst the urban unreached, please do get in touch. We would love to discuss plans and opportunities with you. We would be particularly keen to work with any prospective planter who would be a part of Bethel Church for a time, learning the Oldham context whom we could send off to plant in due course. If planting among Asian Muslims or in a British working-class context is for you, please do get in touch.
We are also keen to get in touch with any mission-minded, gospel-hearted people who might have a heart for our work at Bethel. Even if you have no specific designs on ‘ministry work’ (in the narrow sense of that phrase), we are crying out for people who will come to live and work in Oldham with a desire to share the gospel with a needy town. Whether you are a doctor or nurse who might be stationed at Oldham Royal, a working or trainee teacher (don’t forget those generous bursaries available specifically for working in Oldham) or whatever your job may be, let me encourage you to consider committing to Oldham.
The world looks on and – whilst claiming to serve the needs of the town in social works – holds their nose and often chooses to live outside. We want to see the town replete with those mission-hearted folk who see a people lost in sin – who don’t know their right hand from their left – who will have compassion on those who don’t yet know Christ, are willing to give up the relative comfort of being with ‘people like me’ and develop a heart for this wonderful town.
In reality, Oldham is a great place to live despite what the headlines may say – but, in truth, that is not the primary reason to come. The gospel needs are great. Let us not permit a town to head to Hell because it’s not really my sort of place. Consider seriously whether you could help to reach Oldham. If Christ is our only hope, what hope for Oldham if nobody will share him? We’d love to welcome you if you can grasp hold of the missionary spirit that wants to make Christ known to a lost and needy town.