First off, thank you to all those who have already started conversations about how your church can be open as an inclusive warm space this winter. Having shared a couple of short messages in our district weekly news email and social media it is encouraging to hear what is being explored already.
With an eye watering increase in energy bills formally announced last Friday, I hope you don't mind me sharing a bit of collected wisdom from some I have been speaking with about our role in the national conversation.
I won't start by telling you to care
because I know you do already. God's law is written on your heart. You know it is not right in a wealthy country for people to be forced to chose between freezing or starving. You demonstrate this by the regular positive decisions you make use your time and material wealth to help others.
But a common challenge facing both political discourse and conversations in stewards meetings/ church councils/ leadership is that our collective imagination can often be limited by our personal experience. Many of us don't know what it is like to shiver ourselves to sleep fully dressed, wake up to ice on the inside of the window, with no food or money in the house. That is a good thing. But if no-one in our acquaintance lives (or admits to living) like this, whole congregations and neighbourhoods can be blinded as to just how painful this winter is going to be for millions of people.
Equally you may read what follows and recognise this chimes with something you do already, in which case thank you. I hope you find these words helpful in reflecting on how to keep evolving what you do in response to this deepening crisis.
For such a time as this
"Some weeks the only thing that kept me going was looking forward to sitting in this church hall with a cup of tea and a bun, playing Ludo and knowing you would just sit and listen to my concerns without judging" Not a real quote, but I bet someone will say something similar to you by the spring.
Up and down the country churches are recognising the fast approaching desperate need for simple free neighbourly hospitality, a place to be warm together. And that we have church halls standing empty, kettles unboiled and more willing cake bakers than our waistlines know what to do with, coffee mornings that could last a couple of hours longer, projectors we could show films with, toast-appreciating school children walking home past our chapel. It's not complicated, radical or flashy, but is not your congregation called to make a difference in such a time as this. Is there not a time every week when you could be open as a welcoming warm space? Will this be on your September meeting agendas?
Some collected wisdom
On one level what to do feels obvious. But please first ask each other these questions, gathered from the coal face, before launching into action.
What is actually NEEDED in our neighbourhood? At what time? Ask your local councillors, foodbank, residents association, community forum, or people you know who will rely on warm spaces. Don't assume.
What can we commit to SUSTAIN weekly through the winter? Just one morning per week is better than nothing.
How will people FIND our warm space? How many closed doors will they have to push open? Can they read our sign from the pavement? Which shops or surgeries will display a poster? Have we joined the local community Facebook group? Would other groups that meet in our building spread the word? How will people know they will be welcome?
TEAM UP. Can we create a rota of warm spaces through the week? With other churches, mosques, libraries, social clubs etc
Will our congregation PRAY for warm spaces in our community? Every time they turn on a hot tap maybe? Could we host a short time of prayer at the close of each of warm space session. Or set up a prayer box or prayer tree.
How to create a SAFEenvironment for volunteers and potentially distressed visitors? Ask your church or circuit safeguarding officer.
Who could TRAIN our volunteers so each one feels comfortable in their role and knows how to signpost people to further specialist support. Your local foodbank can probably help with this.
What will be in our prominently displayed CODE OF CONDUCT? "In this place everyone is welcomed, respected and listened to. No one is judged for being here."
Who might SUPPORT us? Don't be too proud to ask. There are likely people beyond your congregation wanting to make a difference by offering time (safely recruited), money, board games, biscuits. Ask your local councillor if Household Support Fund money will contribute to your costs.
Yes we would love to do this but
have you seen how much our church utility bills have gone up, or the size of our congregation, the million other things we need to do as a church, or our own household costs?
I'm certainly not saying this will be easy. Crises rarely are. Especially when one follows another.
Start by praying. Ask what resources you do have. Share stories of the people who supported you in times of need. Talk about your why first, your what second and your how third. Maybe you will need a Warm Spaces Gift Day. Or to ask friends, neighbours, colleagues or family if they could lend a hand. Or to pause your advent Bible study. Or to pool resources as a circuit.
In this, as in any age, must we not claim and test our heritage:
To care for all, without reserve,
And to spread his liberating Word.
Do let me know what you are planning so we can share best practice. Your district officers are here to offer advice and support, including communications, safeguarding and property matters. We are investigating ways to make church buildings more energy efficient, to help you serve your neighbourhood – more on this coming soon.
There is a Connexional webinar on 5 September offering more advice – see you there!
District Mission Enabler