Great Ashby Community Chaplaincy
Sue Hardwidge shares the story of how she came to take on the role of Community Chaplain in Great Ashby alongside all the other things that go with being a Baptist minister
It’s quite a complicated story and it’s quite early days as yet so it’s all still a bit experimental and we don’t really know how it’s going to work out. This is to describe a little of the thinking behind it and the process which we have embarked on. We believe that this is a role which extends the mission of the church more fully into the life of the community and we would value your prayers for it.
For the last five years I have been the minister of Great Ashby Community Church. We are a church planted originally by Bunyan Baptist Church and by our local Anglican parish church, St Nicholas, on a new build housing development on the north east corner of Stevenage in Hertfordshire. The church was already very mission and community focussed. When I first met with the leadership they told me that the word “Community” was in their DNA. This has proved, without a doubt, to be the case because we have tried, as far as possible, to be involved in as many different aspects of the community life of the estate as we possibly can.
We believe that God has called us to act as salt and light in our communities and we take that call seriously. Alongside our involvement in all sorts of different community based activities, we have church members on the board of governors of the local school and Spurgeon’s children’s centre, we have members who sit on the newly formed Community (parish) Council and on the management committee of our local Community Centre and cafe. One of our church members is the manager of the centre and we believe that God has called her and placed her in that key position.
When the Community Centre was originally built there was land to the side of it which was allocated by the builders as being for “sacred/ worship” space. The two planting churches at the time agreed with the management association of the centre that they would give up their claim to this land and would allow an extension to the Community Centre to be built instead, provided that there would be a room set aside for church use in the new extension.
Last November the new and very beautiful extension was finished. The small room for “sacred” use had been included in the plan. There were, however, those now on the management of the Centre who were not comfortable with the idea that Christians should have sole use of the room and suggested that it be a multi faith room.
In the meantime, I had been praying over this matter and had, quite separately to all of this, been seeking God about how I could be of more use to Great Ashby residents in a pastoral way. We felt that people who do not usually attend church may have a view of “chaplaincy” which is positive, approachable and more easily understood than “Baptist Minister.”
We don’t have a church building and there is nowhere for people to visit if they need to talk with someone, and many aren’t comfortable with coming to a stranger’s home. In discussion and prayer with the leadership of the church it was decided that we would call the new room the “Chaplaincy” room and that I would take on a new role as Community Chaplain. This would mean that I would have the use of the room for the bulk of the time for a peppercorn rent but it could be hired by people of other faiths as well. We felt that “Chaplaincy” is a term understood across most mainstream faiths. This went down well with and was agreed by the management group. (phew!)
The room has been decorated and furnished with comfortable chairs and a toy box. In March the new and beautifully equipped Circles Coffee shop which is adjacent to the chaplaincy room was opened. This is well used by parents going to and from the school and children’s centre, people shopping and local residents. I spend time in the coffee shop (Hurray!) chatting with those customers that wish to chat.
I have put notices into all the shops and businesses around the Centre telling them of this new facility and this has been well received. The staff at the vets were pleased as they said that often people come to them to have an animal put down and need someone to talk to. The hairdressers and barbers said that they would pass people on to me as people talk to them about all sorts of things.
There are also many varied groups which use the Centre over the course of the week and our leaflets will be available for everyone who comes into the centre. My intention is to have some regular hours when I am available during the week so people can just drop in or make an appointment. I have said that I will provide support and an ear to listen and will be available to people of all faiths and none.
As I said at the beginning, this is very early days but we do believe that God has called us to this new role within and for the community. So far so good...
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