From Zumba to singing: combatting loneliness amongst older people

Monday morning and it’s a Zumba class for the over 50s at St Stephen’s Church, Westminster. This class is part of St Stephen’s Second Half Club, a weekly day of classes that looks to build community, keep people active in mind, body and spirit, and ultimately combat social isolation. St Stephen’s is one of two London churches, the other being St Paul’s, North Marylebone running a pilot of this programme.

It is well-known that loneliness is a serious concern, with over half of adults in England saying they experience feelings of loneliness.

Although there are many different ways Anglican churches are addressing loneliness in their communities, what is truly exciting about the Second Half Clubs is the partnership that they can create with other organisations looking to achieve the same goals.

Zumba and singing classes at both St Stephen’s and St Paul’s are organised by Open Age, a London-based charity that provides a wide range of physical, creative and mentally stimulating activities to enable older people to develop new skills, fulfil their potential and make new friends.

Barclays Digital Eagles provide a tech class for participants to build their confidence when using computers, mobile devices and the internet. In addition to classes taught by partner organisations, each parish works with members of its own congregation to deliver classes for the club. New to this semester at St Stephen’s is Astronomy class, led by a local teacher from Westminster School.

The Revd Clare Dowding (Rector of St Paul’s) said: “The Second Half Club and Open Age classes have worked well with our mission to serve the parish of North Marylebone.

“We have an open door to the community and we have seen healthy development from accessing classes, to deeper involvement in the life of the church and, for some, attendance at worship.”

Key to the success of these clubs is the partnership with the Second Half Foundation led by Lady Jill Shaw Ruddock CBE. The foundation serves anyone affected by isolation by providing a place to develop more meaningful connections and to continue to learn and grow.

For Catherine Duce (Curate at St Stephen’s Rochester Row), “The Second Half Club has reached out to people living in our parish who would otherwise not step into our building. We are not simply offering a building space. We offer a human face to the church – offering teas and coffees throughout the day and a listening ear to all participants at the classes.”

By its development of key partnerships this model will be easily replicable as The Second Half Foundation expands throughout Westminster and then Hammersmith and Fulham. Along with the Diocese of London and other project partners, the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division are excited to see how this programme continues to advance, tackling the growing problem of social isolation, providing a safe space to learn, love and laugh.

Should any parishes throughout the Diocese of London be interested in hosting their own Second Half Club, please get in touch with Diane Herlinger at the Second Half Foundation at Tel 07709544665.

Joseph Friedrich, Fundraising and Development Officer, Cathedral and Church Buildings Division, the Archbishops’ Council.

Building bridges instead of walls between faith communities

The Bishop of Liverpool explains why he’s visiting a mosque this Sunday as part of #visitmymosque, facilitated by the Muslim Council of Britain, and why it’s important in the face of the fear and suspicion in the world today to affirm what different faiths have to offer each other.

How the Church helps refugees to begin anew

Jesus was a child refugee. For Churches and Church Schools across the country the challenge of helping new arrivals is a natural response to the Gospel.

The About Time project in Plymouth offers hot lunches and English lessons to refugeesPractical support from Church communities for refugees arriving from war-torn countries offers shelter, food and friendship, under the banner that, irrespective of faith, we are all children of God and entitled to be treated with human dignity.

Church Urban Fund works with parishes and charities across England, in places such as Teesside supporting the work of organisations including the Methodist Asylum Project and Open Door North East, to provide work clubs, a women’s sew2work project, conversational English classes and food and clothing.

Major diocesan fundraising appeals across the country including KentEssex and Sussex have resulted in active and wide-ranging support from employment of dedicated officers to co-ordinate parish responses to the provision of language lessons and advice services.

Church houses have been offered as homes for refugees as far afield as Essex, London and Cornwall.

Many churches are working with local charities and government to provide the most effective support. A new project in Coventry, which has resettled more Syrian refugees than any other UK city, aims to befriend and provide practical support to newcomers. Working with local partners, Fresh Start, helps to reduce isolation and encourage integration.

Several Syrian families in Colchester receive support from the Diocese working alongside the migrant and refugee support centre, Fresh Beginnings, and the local council.

In Portsmouth a charity, Friends Without Borders, works with All Saints Church to provide a drop in centre offering food, clothes and legal advice.

Ecumenical support networks are growing, too. In Birmingham, churches of all denominations are taking part in the Places of Welcome scheme offering isolated people, many of them refugees and asylum seekers, a regular place of sanctuary. The network has grown in five years to include 117 venues.

Last Saturday churches from various denominations collected clothing and equipment for refugees in Louth, Lincolnshire.

Individual parishes are responding with collections and fundraising, and offering kitchens, halls and churches as places of sanctuary. All Hallows, Leeds offers sanctuary to refugees and asylum seekers including a weekly Syrian kitchen, which on Christmas day fed 120 in a ‘fusion’ feast.

Parishioners in Whitstable, Kent, volunteer to visit young men and boys sent to a temporary assessment centre for young unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in their area. And in Faversham the parish has made and sent dozens of ‘little bags of hope’ (hat, socks, toiletries) to refugees in northern France.

Further west, in Stoke Damerel Church, Plymouth, the About Time project offers hot lunches and English lessons to refugees.

English cathedrals have also responded, for example at Chelmsford Cathedral, an ‘English for women’ project has helped women and their pre-school children to learn English and about English culture.

Many churches collaborate with other faiths, including St Peter’s, Hall Green, Birmingham, where members of the congregation drove to France to deliver tents, sleeping bags and winter clothes in a mini-bus loaned to them by Birmingham Central Mosque.

The C of E’s 4,700 schools serve diverse communities, many of which are new, such as Somali Muslims in Bristol and Gypsy Romana Travellers in Coventry. Pupil-led initiatives of support include at St Gabriel’s College in South London which has become a refugees welcome schooland last year hosted a summit for other schools wishing to do likewise.

Liz Neil, from Stoke Damerel in Devon, one of the thousands of volunteers involved in welcoming new arrivals to her community speaks about the project she runs, About Time, saying: ‘it is about the time that the volunteers give. It is also about the time the refugees need to have something regular happening and it is about time, here in Plymouth, that asylum seekers and what they need is truly recognised.’

Anna McCrum, Senior Media Officer, Archbishops’ Council.

Why change is needed for Church growth

Following publication of General Synod paper, ‘Setting God’s People Free’, (…ople-free.pdf) Mark Russell, Chief Executive of Church Army and a member of the Archbishop’s Council, speaks about why a change in culture is essential for church renewal.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2017

Earlier this month the Archbishop of Canterbury led a retreat to Auschwitz-Birkenau for three days of prayer and theological and scriptural reflection. The Archbishop was accompanied by members of the learning community – clergy from across the Church participating in continuing professional development and senior leadership training. The group gathered to consider the issues of human evil; how we recognise it and how we respond.

On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day we publish here a series of reflections from members of the learning community. Some of the reflections focus on theology, others on grief and anger, all struggle with the questions of evil, its dehumanising impact, the capacity for humans to visit unspeakable evil upon one another and the systemised, intentional horror evoked by Auschwitz.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s reflection can be read here

Reflections from members of the learning community:

Andrew Bishop

Richard Moy

Richard Pennystan

Clare Dowding

Stephen Hance

Ian Dyble

Libby Wilkinson

Sam Corley

Andrew Emerton

Gavin Collins

Barry Hill

Chris Moore

Michael Everitt

Kimberly Bohan

Will Hazelwood

Matt Bullimore

Jonathan Baker

Liverpool churches providing debt advice

We speak to Kevin Peacock, chief executive of St Andrew’s Community Network, a charity set up at St Andrew’s Church, Clubmoor in Liverpool in 2002. The Network runs a number of programmes, including a budgeting courses and a debt advice service. Last year the charity helped 758 people with debt problems through the debt advice service alone. A ‘satellite’ programme run by the charity has also supported volunteers in seven churches in Merseyside to set up debt advice services, as part of the Community Money Advice Network.

#JoyToTheWorld in all our communities

Throughout December 2016 we ran our #JoyToTheWorld Christmas campaign, encouraging people to experience a church service in their local community.

Parishes added more than 34,000 services to, a site that allowed people to enter their postcode and find Christmas events happening near them. More than 133,000 people visited the site, with 25,000 accessing on Christmas Eve. 83% of traffic came from a smartphone or tablet, showing the huge importance of designing for these devices.

Overall, we reached one and a half million people across Facebook, Twitter and Google. This was achieved by using small amounts of targeted advertising (particularly focusing on those who don’t normally go to church) and asking our existing followers to share the short films and website.

The four videos we released featured people explaining their moment of Christmas #JoyToTheWorld: Gogglebox vicar Revd Kate Bottley, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Becoming Reverend author Revd Matt Woodcock and comedian Paul Kerensa. These were seen over 738,000 times on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

We also wanted to use our national social media accounts to highlight how the good news of Christmas was being shared by parishes across the country – here’s just a few of the many positive tweets from clergy and congregations.

We used Twitter Moments to share tweets like the above and these were seen by tens of thousands and featured on Twitter’s national Moments page on Christmas Day.

We’re thrilled with the number of people who engaged with #JoyToTheWorld over the Christmas period, which showed the importance of our continuing Christian presence in every community. The digital and social media campaign allowed us to showcase and highlight the huge amount of work that parishes across the country put into Advent and Christmas and encourage attendance.

Thanks to a big communications push in dioceses and parishes across the country we ensured churches added services and got behind #JoyToTheWorld locally.

The learnings from #JoyToTheWorld’s social media and search advertising will be applied to our future campaigns and the new life stages and story-led Church of England website, launching in the late summer of 2017.

Adrian Harris
Deputy Director of Communications (Digital) at the Church of England.

New song from rock star and cathedral choir

Birmingham Cathedral choir have recorded a new song in collaboration with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. The Very Revd Catherine Ogle, (whose last service as Dean of Birmingham was last Sunday, 8/1/17) explains how the collaboration came about and the impact the song has made. Listen to the song here:

“It was a wonderful event, the highlight of the Christmas season”

Over the Christmas period, Church of England parishes have helped the homeless, the isolated, refugees and vulnerably housed through projects from winter night shelters to buying presents for the children of prisoners and food hampers for families struggling to meet the cost of household bills. In the blog below, three churches and a cathedral describe their experiences hosting large scale Christmas Day lunches and explain how these events have brought communities together.

Lunch for asylum seekers and refugees

Sanctus, a social enterprise based at St Mark’s Church, Stoke-on-Trent, has been hosting a Christmas Day lunch for refugees and asylum seekers over the past four years. This year the event was moved to the local YMCA where there are better kitchen facilities. 

Rev Sally Smith, team vicar of St Mark’s and chief executive of Sanctus, said: “We had originally estimated 200 for the lunch but we knew this figure could grow  – in the end we were amazed when 360 people turned up including more than 70 extra people attending from Longton, a town four miles away from Stoke. We had put out a press release asking for volunteers to help with transport for people travelling in, and movingly, a local taxi firm run by a Muslim family volunteered and spent a large part of Christmas Day bringing passengers to and from the lunch. The YMCA, in addition to providing staff and the venue, also lent us three of their minibuses to pick up passengers in the Hanley area of Stoke. We had around 40 volunteers, including the Bishop of Stafford, Geoff Annas and his wife and members of the Bishop’s staff and the Archdeacon of Stoke on Trent, Matthew Parker and his wife and three children. We have several Syrian families who have been resettled in the area this year and they all came. Charities, churches and other groups in the area donated presents for the children, including St Mark’s in Basford, near Stoke, who traditionally collect gifts at their crib service. Out of 360 people there were more than 100 children present at the lunch and they all received several gifts. There was carol singing, face painting and games for the children – and there was still food left over at the end of the day. It was a fabulous event.”

Christmas dinner prepared by an inter faith group of cooks with food from the Real Junk Food Project

All Hallows, Leeds welcomed 120 guests for Christmas lunch

Rev Heston Groenewald, vicar of All Hallows, said: “We have a weekly ‘Syrian Kitchen’ in our café at All Hallows, and on Christmas Day our Syrian chefs gave us an amazing gift. They joined others in the kitchen to cook an amazing ‘fusion’ feast: traditional Christmas lunch alongside Syrian chicken, vegetables and delicious desserts. It was a marvellously multi-faith affair: for the first hour of the day, Jewish and Muslim cooks outnumbered Christians.

“After morning worship, we set up tables in the church and around 120 guests sat down to eat. Around half were Syrian Muslim friends. Ours is a wonderfully diverse parish, so we were visited by numerous other Muslim friends and neighbours. This included the imams of both local mosques, who brought us their blessing and wished us Happy Christmas. We had an enormous number of gifts donated by guests and by Leeds City Council. Some of these were left over from a party two weeks earlier, celebrating two Syrian friends receiving Leave to Remain. We had more presents than people could open. It was a very, very special day for us.”

Lunch for people alone at Christmas

Liz Bloomer, churchwarden of St Michael and All Angels Church in Stourport, Worcestershire, writes about how the church hosted a dinner for people on their own on Christmas Day.

“We had about 60 people for the lunch with at least 20 people helping out. We extended it this year and took meals to people who were housebound too. People in the town helped us with containers and transport and their generosity was amazing. They really took this event to heart and gave it 100% support. We had a whole team of people ferrying people to and from the meal. Tesco and the Coop provided all the food and accompaniments, including crackers, table cloths and bottles of wine – there was nothing for us to buy, everything was provided for. It was a wonderful occasion, better than last year as we have revamped kitchen facilities with decent ovens and an industrial dishwasher, paid for from fundraising and a loan from Worcester Diocese. We now have such a wonderful community resource with our kitchen that this raises the possibility of further similar events.”

Portsmouth Cathedral hosted a five-course lunch on Christmas Day for 60 people in a joint event with FoodCycle, a charity that creates meals from surplus food.

Canon Peter Leonard, from Portsmouth Cathedral said: “We had 60 people at the lunch, with around 47 guests and the rest volunteers. The guests ranged from elderly people on their own to homeless people and a family with eviction hanging over them. On Christmas Eve we received a vast amount of food from the supermarkets. We had vegetable soup, prepared on Christmas Day morning, followed by turkey, and then fruit crumble for pudding, with coffee, mince pies and chocolates. In addition to the lunch, guests went away with armfuls of food, including vegetables and bread. Parents from a local school had put together a big sack of gifts for the lunch and the guests were given gifts too. During the lunch, we found that one of the guests had been missing hospital appointments that he really needed to make. Five people at the lunch said they would make sure that he got lifts to the hospital to ensure he never misses any more appointments. It was a wonderful event, the highlight of the Christmas season – the generosity at the lunch was incredible. We had so much donated, it was overwhelming. We will make sure we do this again next year.”