CW88 – Reconciliation: Living out reconciliation for families

By Dawn Savidge, Messy Church trainer and families advisor for the Diocese of Leeds

 

Reconciliation; it’s such a powerful word. It is something that we try to teach our children from a very early age. But how do we model it in a world that is full of so many injustices, conflict and disagreements?

Just a few of the issues that have arisen over the past couple of years have been Brexit, COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter.

The voices of hatred and discontent have risen up alongside a passion to make our world a fairer and more understanding place. It may seem that some of these issues are so far removed from where you are living.

One of the best things about Messy Church is that it is an intergenerational worship community. This might look like dozens of people meeting in a church building, it also might look like two families meeting in a home, having a meal together and looking at a scripture around activities, fun and prayer.

It gives us a chance to have honest conversations with people from different generations; to hear what affects our children and adults. Does reconciliation look generationally different and are there ways that we can help each other?

There are plenty of issues that impact rural communities; Brexit and farming are just two of them. Why not explore some of those with a Messy Church field trip? Can you relate what is happening in your community to a Bible passage?

Make sure you ask open-ended questions: What would Jesus do if he were here?  How can the policy makers listen to people in communities like ours?  What would you like to do to heal the community?

If you are living in an urban area which is rich in multi-cultural diversity, some of these topics will be easier to relate to. How can you engage with these issues in a rural context? Start by watching the news. I know it can sometimes be a bleak place, but it gives you a view of what is happening in the world outside of our communities.

In July 2021 we have seen a rise in the Black Lives Matter campaign in relation to the Euros and the hurt that has been caused. It is by knowing about things that are happening in the world that we can then look to our Bibles and see what God has to say about it.

Jesus crossed many cultural divides. He healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Mark 7). He told the story of the Good Samaritan and how a Jew was helped by a non-Jew (Luke 10). God gave Peter the vision for a new church that included Gentiles through the dream about what he could eat (Acts 10). He healed the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). The Bible has a lot to say about issues that we are facing today.

The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped our communities and heightened the existing needs of people. Families are barely surviving and not thriving, with a reliance on food banks, increased unemployment and worries about having enough money. Jesus loves the poor. He turned the world upside down.  Why not look at the Beatitudes with your Messy Church?

Messy Church is a great way to explore what it means to be reconciled. Listen to the world, listen to the Bible and listen to each other.

CW88 – Reconciliation: Walk and pray, care and share God’s love this Christmas with the Oikos app

By Catherine Butcher, HOPE Together

During 2021 Christians all over the UK have been using the Oikos prayer app to track where they have walked and prayed for their communities. The app was developed in the USA and was launched in the UK by Hope for Every Home as part of their Prayer Walk 21 challenge.

The Oikos Outreach App allows you to tag where you have prayed, cared and shared the love of Jesus with people in your street, road, lane… it starts wherever you are. The tags are saved on the app. You can see where you have been and where others have prayed, cared and shared too.

As the year-long Prayer Walk 21 challenge comes to an end, Sammy Jordan, project leader for Hope for Every Home, said: ‘It’s not too late to become part of a movement trying to reach the whole nation for Jesus street by street, home by home… to the last home. Don’t worry if you’ve never prayer-walked before. There are many ways to do it and you can find your own. Think of it as praying whilst you walk…but it’s a good idea to keep your eyes open!

“You might want to pray for particular things you see on your walk – people and places. You might want to ask God to help you notice things as you walk and pray about them.”

In the run-up to Christmas 2021 you could also use the app to track where you have delivered HOPE magazines with invitations to your in-person and online church events during the festive season.

“Do what the Lord is telling you to do, and trust that he’ll bring fruit from the seed you’ve planted!” That’s the simple but beautiful attitude to mission from David Morgan, an 80-year-old from the village of Cookhill in Worcestershire.

Alongside fellow members of the congregation at Cookhill Baptist Church, in partnership with local Anglicans, David has been finding creative ways to reach out to the people in their village. “The big challenge is to bridge the gap between practical activity and the spiritual message underlying it,’ said David. ‘And how to communicate with folk around us, which are mainly those we meet on daily dog-walks!”

One way in which Cookhill Baptist Church has shared the good news with their village has been through the distribution of HOPE’s magazines. They gave away 1,000 copies at Christmas 2020, as a way of the church maintaining its focus on looking outwards into the community.

David has found that giving out the magazines is most effective when it’s done face-to-face. He described how he always tries to identify an article that he knows will connect with someone’s particular interests. For example, the church organised some Easter-themed activities for local families and used that as a chance to pass out copies of the 2021 undated edition of HOPE for All. David is hoping and praying that God will use them to touch hearts in his community.

The HOPE magazines are published by Hope for Every Home in partnership with HOPE Together. Copies of the latest magazine are available from the HOPE shop – www.hopetogether.org.uk/shop. There are also resources for children and toddlers, as well as video courses and other resources.

 

CW88 – Reconciliation: Bags of Blessing for isolating people during the pandemic

By Revd Sue Pegg MA Methodist Minister in West Yorkshire.              

 

‘May the Lord bless you and keep you;

May the Lord be kind and gracious to you;

May the Lord look on you with favour and give you peace’

(Numbers: Chapter 6)

It began with a phone call from Alison in the Arthur Rank Centre office, offering a lottery grant to fund work by churches in rural villages which would help ease isolation and loneliness during the difficult days of the pandemic.

At the time of the call the nation had been in lockdown for many months and despite making half a dozen phone calls a day to church and community folk, as well as embracing Zoom, I was becoming increasingly aware that many in our village communities were shielding in order to stay safe.

Being confined to their homes meant elderly folk were beginning to desperately miss the social contact usually enjoyed through various groups, coffee mornings and lunches. The offer of the grant money was a blessing as it had potential to ease their increasingly difficult situation.

Revd Val Keating, our local Anglican vicar, accepted an invitation to work together to reach as many folk as we could in the communities of five West Yorkshire villages, so we got together to share ideas.

Knowing that many were shielding and really missing family, especially their adult children and grandchildren, it seemed Mothering Sunday would be a good time to begin the work. Our first purchase was some small lace bags, like ‘favour bags’ often given to wedding guests. A lady in one village ran a local cottage business and made small decorative flowers from recycled plastic.

Thinking these would make ideal gifts we ordered 70 of them to put in the bags along with a Mothering Sunday greeting. Then, along with volunteers, the bags of blessing as we called them were delivered personally to those known to us who were feeling the pain of isolation as symbols of love and of hope. We were greeted with smiles and tears. The gifts seem to be very much appreciated.

The Mothering Sunday work encouraged us forward to an Easter project using similar bags. This time we wished people a Happy Easter with small chocolate eggs, a love heart, and an invitation to ‘Feel God’s love’. Once again there were tears and smiles and many stories about long hours spent shielding and in isolation. Eager to spread the love as much as possible, villagers from one church made a wooden cross and hooked some bags onto it. It was then placed outside church with an invitation to take a bag of blessing from the cross during the Easter weekend.

Despite the building being closed for services (which were currently held on Zoom) this enabled the church to reach out with love during the important Christian celebration.

We also delivered the Palm Crosses made by rural villagers in Africa, whose only source of income was from the crosses they made. It was a way of offering hope from one isolated community at the other side of the world to our local communities and it was felt a way both could receive God’s blessings.

The bags of blessing began to gain momentum and as a group of urban churches heard of our work in the countryside they too adopted the idea and as a result over 5,000 were distributed around our local town.

By Easter the pandemic was beginning to ease but it was noticeable that many, especially the elderly, and despite receiving Covid vaccines, were reluctant to leave their homes so we began praying about a way forward for the summer months where people could feel safe but also begin to reconnect with their friends.

To date the Rural Isolation Funding has enabled us to offer Gentle Exercise/ Pilates classes in two villages for eight two-hour sessions during the summer months. We hope the classes will entice people out of their homes to reconnect with others in the community in a Covid secure environment. The classes will run until early September when it’s hoped it will be safe for usual coffee mornings and lunch clubs to resume.

Our hope is that the Rural Isolation Grant used to finance the various aspects of the work has, in small ways, helped to elevate loneliness and isolation during the dark days of the pandemic to those living in the local villages and offered them peace and love. The bags of blessing certainly brought a smile to faces and perhaps, in the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 34) enabled some to ‘taste and see that God is good’ amid their suffering.

We pray that the exercise classes will provide a crucial link between the pandemic and normality of life resuming.

Our thanks go to Alison and the Arthur Rank Centre for making the projects possible through Lottery funding.

CW88 – Reconciliation: Overcoming barriers across the Irish border

By Revd Dr Stephen Skuce, Methodist Church in Ireland Northwestern District Superintendent

 

What does reconciliation look like in a rural community that has been attacked for simply being the people we are?  The answer is ‘complicated’.

The Northwestern district of the Methodist Church in Ireland includes the full border between the two jurisdictions, with about a quarter of our district in the Republic of Ireland.  Most of the northern churches are fairly close to the border.

You will know perhaps of the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb, and the Omagh bombing. Both included our members among the dead and injured. The Warrenpoint attack in which 18 soldiers died is at one side of our district and on the western edge of the district, Lord Mountbatten and three others were murdered. Dozens of our members have been killed and countless others attacked, threatened and so on. The memorial tablets in our border churches sometimes refer to 1914-18 or 1939-45, but all too often refer to those of us murdered far more recently.

That was then, but still also now. The long shadow of our history still affects us. Brexit and its clear implications significantly jeopardise peace. We want to move on, but Brexit pulls us back.

I currently live in Strabane/Lifford. The two parts of the town are separated by a river that is also an international border. Brexit has made that border harder again.

It’s hard to focus on reconciliation when you live near the border and experience systematic attacks over generations.  We are far from claiming a monopoly of suffering. That is sadly a widely shared experience but is sharpened in rural areas where we know each other. We work with each other. We farm alongside each other, lend each other equipment and buy our livestock from each other.

We may be educated separately, largely socialise separately and follow some different sports, but we are neighbours.  So, when we have been attacked, it was by those who live close by. We live beside neighbours who somehow saw nothing and knew nothing about an attack. These aren’t distant wars. This is over the hedge. Reconciliation is a decades long struggle.

Methodists have been outstanding in the search for peace. The work and price paid by Gordon Wilson after his injury and death of Marie, his daughter, in the Enniskillen bombing is perhaps well known. A Methodist minister, Harold Good, was one of two witnesses to the IRA’s decommissioning of their weapons and the UVF announced their ceasefire in a Belfast Methodist church.

We’re trying our best. On the same day as the Enniskillen bombing the border village of Pettigo/Tullyhommon was also targeted by a bomb aimed at the children gathering for the Remembrance Day parade at the Methodist church. That bomb failed to go off but the legacy of the attempted attack on the Protestant children of that community, all part of a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign, is hard. But today we enjoy a shared community building in the Methodist Church that is used by all.

The price of peace is very high.  We have been required to let murderers walk free.  We have to stop searching for justice and accept government from those who targeted us. We are willing to pay that price because we are Christian people of hope and a future.  It will get better, although it’s not guaranteed. But it’s even harder to overcome barriers when you live on the border.

CW88 – Reconciliation: Lessons learnt from Foot and Mouth

Lessons learnt from Foot and Mouth

By Richard Betton, Regional Director (North), Farmers Community Network

As farmers, the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak is etched in our minds. Our tenanted hill farm, high in the North Pennines was surrounded by outbreaks. We could smell the stench of burning pyres drifting over the hills from Cumbria. In many ways it was like a child on a sandcastle watching the tide come in: would we survive or would we, like so many other farming families, see our stock washed away?

There are many similarities, even with subtle differences, between 2001 and the pandemic. Foot-and-mouth disease saw the countryside locked down while Covid saw the whole country locked down. In 2001 all livestock marts and movements were stopped almost immediately (in February) and didn’t resume until well into the next year. We had to sell our breeding sheep privately as the marts couldn’t operate to a farmer whose flock had been culled. Because of the movement restrictions we had to “put them to the tup” and look after them for a further four months until he was given the all clear by Ministry vets.

As foot-and-mouth disease dragged on both economic and mental health pressure built up for many farming families. If a licence to move stock could be obtained from the Disease Emergency Control Centre it seemed to take ages and then required military supervision and copious disinfecting. In some ways, not wanting to belittle the emotional anguish of “being culled,” losing your stock did bring some easing of those strains as fodder shortages, welfare issues and all the other associated problems of running a business under draconian restrictions disappeared.

Defra developed a system of “contiguous culling” which was then expanded to automatic three kilometre culls around confirmed infected farms. Farmers could reluctantly accept culling when foot-and-mouth was confirmed but it was rather more difficult to accept seeing healthy stock culled because that was what the rules said. In the heat of the moment things were said and blame laid that caused rifts in many farming communities that took a long time to heal.

The closing of livestock auction marts did have some long term and profound effects on the farming community. For many farming families the weekly trip to market was part of life. If there was no buying or selling to be done that week, one could still “see the trade”, order some feed, buy some wormer and get a new pair of wellies! More importantly for many farmers it was an essential part of their social life when they met their neighbour and heard the local news. For people who usually work on their own this was tremendously important for their social and mental wellbeing.

When restrictions did lift many farmers did not resume that weekly trip to the mart: they had got into the habit of not going. They had found other ways to do business and keep up to date with news, largely through the expansion of internet access and social media. Missing out on regular social interaction face to face has weakened the resilience of the farming community. Foot-and-mouth disease had increased the need for organisations like FCN to support farming families: the lifting of restrictions exposed new reconnection and reconciliation problems very similar to what we are facing nationally as lockdown is eased and relationship are renewed. The lessons learnt in 2001 are still relevant in 2021.

CW88 – Reconciliation: Parliamentary column

By Lord Curry of Kirkharle, Crossbench peer and former chair of NFU Mutual

What a problem it was deciding where to go on holiday this year. ‘Let’s go to Portugal or Iceland because they are on the green list. Oh dear, they have now been changed to amber so we have to quarantine when we return! Why don’t we find a staycation somewhere in the UK instead?’

A staycation! We used to search for a B&B, or a cottage, or a campsite, or a nice little hotel in the Lake District or Devon, but now it’s a staycation – whatever that is! Isn’t it remarkable how new words and phrases become embedded in our vocabulary.

This has been a particular feature of the pandemic. We now talk very glibly about ‘self-isolation’ and ‘social distancing’, phrases never used until 2020. How heartbreaking it has been for so many families when loved ones have died in a care home or a hospital bed, alone. Another distressing aspect has been coping with separation. Separation from family and friends, and worst of all, unable to enjoy much needed hugs.

‘Levelling up’ is another new phrase and is now an important Government policy, but it is a complex issue given the North – South divide and the Government’s efforts concentrated on the, so called, ‘red wall’ parliamentary constituencies.
Sadly, similar divisions exists between rural and urban so if you live in the rural north, as I do, we have a double ‘levelling up’ whammy to be addressed.

I was a member of the House of Lords’ Rural Economy Committee whose report in 2020 included the need to ‘rural proof’ Government policies to ensure they consider rural communities. Government accepted this, but rejected the recommendation to produce a ‘rural strategy.’ Too often in the past policies have been drafted by those who live in cities with no knowledge of the countryside and those who live in it.

Lots of new bills are progressing through Parliament, having left the EU, such as the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill, the Environment Bill and the Skills Bill. All will impact the countryside, in particular the way farming will be encouraged to deliver ‘public goods’ through the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, replacing direct support farmers have received since 1947. It is essential that family farms are given sound advice on how to benefit from this change to survive and, hopefully, prosper.

Many people living in the countryside felt ‘socially distanced’ from their urban cousins long before Covid so the challenge is not new! Indeed, there are lots of biblical examples of social divisions – rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. In the story Jesus told of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10, ‘the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans’ but that social gap was resolved in that instance by a ‘good’ and generous person who cared. Stating we care about rural issues and recognising the concerns about ‘levelling up’, about ‘social isolation’ has to be demonstrated by action on ‘rural proofing’ to ensure rural communities and rural business do enjoy ‘shared prosperity’.

Jesus set the perfect example, of course, through His humility and loving care, and ultimately through His reconciling sacrifice. He gave His disciples and us the personal instruction to ‘follow me.’

 

CW88 – Reconciliation: Healing church division

Becoming ‘agents of reconciliation’

 

By Rt Revd Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester

Here in the Church of England Diocese of Leicester (a “rural diocese with urban heartlands”), we’ve adopted ‘reconciling communities’ as one of our strategic priorities. It sits alongside our four other priorities: new communities (fresh expressions of church); intercultural communities; intergenerational communities and eco communities. But this one focuses in particular on the divisions which exist not just in our world but also in our church, and it is intended to make it clear that reconciliation is core to God’s mission in this world.

Perhaps the most vivid description of this in the New Testament is the Pentecost story. When the Holy Spirit came on those first disciples, they were suddenly able to speak the different languages of the people around about them. This, then, is a picture of what it means to translate the good news of Jesus Christ into the language and culture of the many different people groups of the world. It is intended to be an image of overcoming the barriers to communication and to understanding within this world. And we go on to see that worked out in other ways through the rest of the book of Acts.

For Christians, this means being willing to have good conversations with one another across our differences. Being willing to listen to one another – and by that, I mean a deep listening, not just listening in order that I can then argue with what somebody is saying. But a listening which is willing to take on board what somebody else is saying and allow their words to really take root within me, such that, even though I may not then agree with what they say, nevertheless I can disagree with love and with understanding.

That requires brave conversations as well as good conversations. Being willing to talk about the stuff which we know is not easy to talk about. Being willing to talk about the stuff which we know is sensitive, which people can easily get worked up about and people can easily get hurt by as well. But we need to be brave in having those conversations as long as they’re done with love and understanding. It means facing up to our fears and our prejudices. It means being honest about the fact that every one of us can be guilty of hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing something different.

But it’s only as we in the church practice these things and develop these skills that we can then be agents of reconciliation within the wider world. And we know we live in a society which is bitterly divided in all sorts of different ways.

So part of our work and our calling as a church is indeed to be people of reconciliation, to invite others to be reconciled with God but then also reconciled with one another. The two elements sit together, just as Jesus summarised the law as love of God and of neighbour. This then, has always been core to our faith, but now, more than ever, we need to make it a priority to learn how to be agents of reconciliation.

 

CW88 – Reconciliation: Occasions come together

From rift to reconciliation: occasions to come together

Dr Anne Richards

 

National Adviser: Mission and Public Affairs, Church of England

What’s the difference between God and a wedding planner? Well, I was recently at a meeting with a wedding planner who was talking to two young people about the arrangements for their wedding reception. As they pored over a possible seating plan, she enquired, quite discreetly, whether there were any guests who should be kept apart.

I was interested in this, because I have been at funerals where social workers and even police have been on hand in the expectation of trouble, but when I talked to the wedding planner, she said there had been not a few, but many occasions, where, fuelled by alcohol and emotion, tempers fray and family rifts flare out, spoiling the event and causing tears for everyone. Now, the planners ask beforehand to try and iron out potential confrontations and difficulties by seating people who are known to be unhappy with each other out of their direct eyelines and putting distance between difficult relationships.

We think about the occasional offices as events which celebrate and mourn the big moments in people’s lives. We rejoice when a person, child or adult, is received into the Christian church through baptism. We are filled with the feeling of new beginning and hopeful future when two people are joined before God in holy matrimony and we weep and give thanks at the closure of a person’s life as we commend them to God at a funeral.

In rural places, these events are often the bedrock of a village or town’s engagement of the church in relation to the community. I have been at events where every person in the village has turned out to celebrate a marriage or stood outside in the rain to mourn a long-known person at their funeral. Such events can draw churchgoers and non-churchgoers together and cement a feeling of social solidarity radiating outwards from the church. But the other side of it is also there. Occasional offices can be places where family history and rifts going back generations can flare up. Some of those things can be family breakdowns and separations, and friends who land on one side or the other of the division. Sometimes it’s jealousies and competitiveness or lost loves that burst outwards in the face of others’ happiness. Sometimes it’s just an inability to hold back emotion or resentment, or a life of poverty or pain that makes someone start something that escalates.

Talking to a rural vicar just recently, he mused that the worst fight that ever broke out in church was over a disputed decision in a cricket match on the village green two years previously. All kinds of things from huge trauma to the completely trivial can become rivers of resentment carving canyons of bitterness etched into long memories. So ministry which offers the space and time to express joy and wonder before God also has to consider an underbelly of negative emotions which can be simmering away and which themselves need addressing.

How then, can the occasional offices of the rural church be occasions for joy, for mission, but also for healing, for reconciliation?

In Unreconciled? a book I wrote with my friends and colleagues in the Mission Theology Advisory Group, we looked closely at the sort of rifts and unhealed divisions which perpetuate in the Church but which are rarely, if ever, really addressed in Christian reconciliation.

One of the things we noted was that reconciliation is not just about patching things up, papering over the cracks, or even getting relationships on to an even keel. It is about more than mending, but the creation of something new in which everyone concerned can now flourish as God intends us to flourish. That place of mutual flourishing which is such a powerful witness to God working among us, is the place we need to get to.

So suppose we think of every baptism, wedding or funeral, as a place where brokenness and pain can be laid to rest and then transmuted into new peace, freedom and joy. It’s all very well saying it like that, but nothing in that process is automatic; it takes real preparatory work, careful pastoral care, sensitivity to the performative nature of liturgy, its spaces for acknowledging falling short and occasions for forgiveness, and the creation of room for the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of all who attend.

As we emerge out of the pandemic, we are obliged now to think of the further damage that lockdowns and isolation have inflicted on people. There has been trauma, increased family tensions where people have had to spend time struggling with work and school at home, occasions of fragile mental health, bereavements, separations, guilts and fears.

People have fallen out about whether churches have been open or shut, whether the vicar phoned enough, whether their Christian neighbours helped enough or not. All kinds of issues now lie behind attendance at Church and these need a place and time to be addressed. And so we are now faced with a complex task, but also an opportunity. What skills in reconciliation, restoration, forgiveness and assurance in the faithfulness and steadfastness of God, do we now need in order to create something new? How do we make the things the rural church is often so best at, in creating and sustaining community, the basis of real reconciliation for people which leads us all from pain to peace and joy?

What is the difference between God and the wedding planner? Psalm 23 says that God restores our failing lives and that God comforts even when we walk in the darkest valley, the valley of the shadow of death. But more to the point, the psalm ends with a table being set in the presence of the psalmist’s enemies. And there, the cup overflows in safety and security where all can flourish. It is enmity that the wedding planner hopes to mitigate; with God, enmity means nothing in the face of God’s overwhelming, forgiving love. Let’s choose God’s way.

CW88 – Reconcilation: Rural Roundup


Vicar organises climb ‘over the hill’ to meet neighbours.

Residents who live in villages situated around the base of a large Somerset hill, but are not interlinked, decided the best way to get to know each other was to put on their walking boots, head out of the house and hike up the hill to meet the people who live on the other side.

Revd Annie Gurner, of Ham Hill Villages benefice, who organised the event on Ham Hill says, “We wanted to build back social recovery and encourage people to re-engage with each other. So many have been isolated and lonely. We have a necklace of small villages around this historic hill and we wanted to organise a safe way for people to enjoy the countryside, meet each other and make new friends.”

A starting point was organised from every village and once on the hill the groups could decide which route to take.

The gathering also wanted to highlight and raise funds for people in Uganda who are similarly battling the pandemic but who lack basic services such as good sanitation, drinking water or hand washing facilities. Their efforts raised £27, 685 for the cause.

Revd Annie says, “Ham Hill village churches have a long history of supporting both African communities, and water projects – our churches share every baptism collection with Wateraid and in recent years have raised thousands of pounds. Several of our churches lack their own toilets but that hasn’t stopped them ‘twinning’ their planned toilets!

“Our walk was one of 12 across the UK organised by members of the Watsan Uganda supporters. We invited teachers and pupils from our local schools and youth clubs and members of our seven village churches. Many non-walkers from the local villages also generously donated. We want to do what we can, not fester about what we can’t!”

 

CW86: Growing Together in Townend Community Garden

By Mary Craner

On a prayer walk a couple of years ago, Lorraine Brown found herself in a conversation with members of Chapel-en-le-Frith Methodist Church about their vision of converting a small field the church owned into a community garden. Interestingly, the Minister of the church had already mentioned this idea to her a year or so earlier, so she knew God was stirring this church up. Were they brave enough to move into outward-focused mission?

Yes, they were!

Following consultations with the church and community, a planning group was formed comprising both community and church members. They applied for planning permission as the field was part of a conservation area and started fundraising.

Once planning permission was granted in July 2019 the project really took off, and in September a very successful open day was held on the field. Over fifty people attended on a hot sunny day, tea and cakes were served, everyone who came was very enthusiastic, and we were excited when ten volunteers signed up to join in with creating the garden.

A generous donation from our Methodist circuit, a Methodist Insurance grant and local fundraising had already raised a total of £10,000, so work on the main structure of the garden started in October with the building of raised beds. A low wall around the communal area went in over the winter and the orchard was planted in February by some enthusiastic volunteers, undeterred by the pouring rain.

The church, Girls’ Brigade, local primary and high schools, a local centre for adults with learning difficulties and a mental health support group were all keen to enjoy the benefits of working and playing in the garden. We agreed dates for each of the groups to start dates but then COVID-19 hit, and the project had to stop for a while.

As time went on and restrictions eased, volunteers were able to start caring for the garden again, planting beds, preparing a wildflower meadow, and creating fully accessible, safe paths.

Because of the garden project, Chapel-en-le-Frith Methodist Church was able to gather for worship once national COVID-19 restrictions began in lift. On Sunday afternoons during August and September, two of the ministers in the town shared an act of worship outside, allowing isolated church members a very welcome time of sharing in a safe outdoor space.

In time, local groups will be welcomed into the garden, and we hope that in spring 2021 we will be fully open to all. Our mission is to be a safe, accessible haven of peace and friendship where we can contribute to the health and wellbeing of local people.

The enthusiasm from our volunteers has been heart-warming. The mother of one family told us, ‘the garden has brought a fantastic feeling of community pride in what we have achieved. I am so happy my children have been part of it’, while the father of another family said, ‘my daughters and I love being outside. Attending on a Saturday morning puts us all in a great frame of mind for the rest of the day.’ A gentleman of 84 told us that he had ‘hugely enjoyed the companionship’.

What wonderful accolades!

 

Mary Craner, Project Co-ordinator

Chapel-en-le-Frith Methodist Church

maryinhighpeak@hotmail.co.uk

 

Deacon Lorraine Brown, Peak Park Rural Officer

peakpark@sheffieldmethodist.org

 

 

This article first appeared in Country Way 86: Mental Health & Wellbeing, February 2021. Go to arthurrankcentre.org.uk/country-way for more information about how to subscribe.