Story 3 - Open the doors and love people
Sutton St. James Baptist Church
by Sue Hensby, Pastor at Sutton St James Baptist Church, Lincolnshire
SSJBC has been serving the village for over 200 years and during this time the number of people involved with Church life has fluctuated greatly from the heyday of the early 1900’s to 2002, when the last paid minister stepped down and announced that the church would close.
But God had a plan for SSJBC!
Pastor Ross Dean from Fleet Hargate Baptist Church and his wife Annette offered to step into the breach and lead the Church for the time being. Little did they know that this faithful service would be for another 15 years!
In October 2017, Arnie and I picked up the baton of leadership at SSJBC from Ross & Annette and we inherited a Sunday congregation of 3 wonderfully faithful ladies with an average age of 85, a weekly coffee morning for about 20 people and a monthly community lunch for up to 40 which we undertook to continue.
We knew that God had called us to SSJBC and that His call to us was to ‘open the doors and love people’ – so that is what we did.
We honoured what was already taking place and then canvassed opinion from our community to hear what they might like the Church to offer.
With no regular meeting place available in the village, no coffee shop or similar, there was a real need for somewhere to meet. Our vision is to redevelop the Old School Room at the front of the Church to provide a hub for our community, creating somewhere they can meet for a cuppa and a chat or to just sit and read the paper in comfortable relaxed surroundings. We envisage this to be a place where people can also access support and advice from visiting professionals, or find a place of peace, prayer and healing.
New Kitchen Design Completed front porch
We are currently trying to raise funds to enable the next phase of our building works (entitled Project Refresh) to take place, but even without the funding we have still managed to increase our Outreach activities, which nearly all run on a donation only basis as we do not want anyone to be excluded due to their financial circumstances. These now include the following:
New weekly School run
Cuppa Stop on Tuesdays
Original weekly Thursday coffee morning
New Renew Wellbeing Café every Friday.
Original monthly Community Lunch
New monthly Men’s breakfast
New Easter Cream Tea
New Pancake Day Drop-in
New August Cream Tea
New Light Party (Halloween alternative)
New Pre-Christmas singalong and cream tea
These new activities have enabled the Church to be open more frequently, welcoming everyone as part of our Church Family, irrespective of whether they come to a Sunday service, coffee morning or community lunch. And as such, we have been able to build great relationships with our community working to the simple principles of belong, believe and behave.
We believe that people should be able to belong to our Church family by grace, before they are expected to demonstrate any belief or make any profession of faith. Our heart is to get to know people, build relationships based on love and trust and to gently share our faith with them. We trust that God, by His Holy Spirit will guide our words and actions and prompt their hearts, so that they will want to embark on their own faith journey.
We are seeing this work as we now have over 200 people on our Church family contact list who interact with the Church through one or more of our activities. Furthermore, we are seeing many others move from a coffee morning engagement to beginning their own journey of faith which is really exciting.
And Sundays? God has blessed our humble endeavours by bringing us a wonderful mix of previously unchurched families and experienced Christians to be part of our weekly Sunday worship. Numbers now regularly reach 30+ people and often 15 children (22 children on our books) go out for their own special time of Godly Play led by Arnie.
In 2019, the Church saw its first wedding for 15 years as two of our church family were married and by the end of 2019, 16 people had taken the step to become formal Church Members.
Arnie and I have often felt out of our depth as we have followed God’s call, but we always placed our trust in a God who equips us with the gifts we need as we need them - and we continue to enjoy our adventure!