Providing a network of support for mothers and babies

Research has shown there is overwhelming evidence that the bond between parent and child from birth to the age of three becomes even more crucial to a child’s development when added to poverty and other disadvantages. A pioneering project at St John the Evangelist Church in Angell, Town, Brixton, makes use of the community links of a church congregation to promote nurturing, bonding and breastfeeding rates in a deprived area of south London. In the blog below, we read about how the Babytalk project could be used as a template for other projects in churches across the country.

At St John’s, Angell Town, in Brixton, south London, parish priest Rosemarie Mallett dreams of buying a camper van to tour the local area to help bring a pioneering project promoting the well being of new mothers and babies to a bigger audience. Babytalk, based at the church, has reached more than 300 families since it was founded in 2015, running sessions at the church and within the local community and primary school on baby health, breastfeeding and bottle feeding and nurturing and bonding for mothers and babies. A survey by the National Childbirth Trust last year showed as many as a third of new mothers experience difficulty bonding with their baby. The parish, already well known in the capital for its community work on a deprived inner city estate, has drawn up its own ‘baby friendly’ policy adapted from Unicef guidelines and the policy could become a national template for work in this area for the charity Parish Nursing Ministries UK . The project whose funders include Southwark Diocese, has trained a team of volunteers to provide support to mothers and babies and has links to a Muslim women’s group. One of the pioneering aspects of the work has been ‘story telling’ workshops where mothers are encouraged to talk about their own experiences. Angela Sherridan, chaplaincy parish midwife for the church, and co-founder of the project, who works on Babytalk in a voluntary capacity, said: “On the Parochial Church Council we talked about the importance of breastfeeding and supporting mothers and finding an area if a mother wants to feed away from people. If a mum is bottle feeding, that means getting a bottle warmer in place. We are trying to help complement the NHS services and we work with the local infant feeding services including local ‘milk spots’ in Lambeth children’s centres where mothers can seek help with breastfeeding. The project is about helping women to bond with their babies and give them a network of support. It is in its early days but has already generated a lot of goodwill and support, with other community groups taking an interest, including a Latin American group asking for a package in Spanish. One of our plans in the future is to recruit a health visitor. We also hope to set up a conference to highlight some of the challenges that new mothers can face, particularly if they feel isolated. ”

Martha Linden, Archbishops’ Council senior media officer

Listen to an interview with volunteer Rosemarie Cordwell and midwife Angela Sherridan

The Babytalk project was co-founded by Canon Rosemarie Mallett, Terry Drummond, former policy adviser to the Bishop of Southwark, midwives Jess Gordon and Angela Sherridan and Mia Hilborn and the chaplaincy team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. It was inspired by work to foster links between health care and faith groups promoted by the Chaplaincy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Its funders include Southwark Diocese, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Chaplaincy and the Lillian Nash fund.

The programme was runner up in the Ecclesiastical Insurance Churches Helping Community Competition. Read more and watch a video

Hospital chaplains valued more and more

At this time of year Hospitals come under greater pressure. Supporting the work of medical staff, chaplains and their teams are working round the clock. Some argue there’s no space for faith in public services. But according to Canon Peter Wells and Revd Mia Hilborn, patients and staff are turning to them more and more.

Enabling ministers to flourish

Living Ministry is a new ten year research project aimed at asking the key question, ‘what enables ministers to flourish in ministry?’. The project will explore clergy wellbeing and effectiveness and, in particular, how these relate to ministerial training and development. Liz Graveling, Research Officer at the Ministry Division explains more.…-research

An education where no passports are required

Around one million children in England – a quarter of primary pupils and one in 16 secondary students – attend Church of England schools, which welcome those from all backgrounds. At a time when racial and cultural tensions appear to be on the rise, Church schools are valued more than ever by people of all faiths and none, according to the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer Nigel Genders.

Millions of people living in England today attended a Church of England school and millions more will have a child or close relative who has benefitted from the experience of a church school education. Each one of them will have been shaped by the education they received and will remember the dedicated teachers and leaders in 4,700 schools across the length and breadth of the country – schools that offer an education which seeks to form children and young people as they themselves help shape the world in which we all live.

The Church of England’s commitment to education remains as strong as it has always been and we have recently offered a fresh vision for education. At a time when many are looking for a vision of education to enthuse and inspire them, this deeply Christian vision of education is one that is generous and seeks to allow the riches of Christian life to overflow to those of other faiths or no faith, but who share the bigger vision of what we think education is for.

But some still seem surprised when they hear of Church of England schools serving people of other faiths. One commentator recently suggested that if, in a majority Muslim area, parents are sending their children to Church of England schools, then the natural step would be to turn those schools into secular schools instead of church schools. But not only is that illogical, it is to miss the point entirely.

“We are proud that our Church of England schools are modelling an education where no passports are required and the doors are wide open to the communities they serve.”

We constantly hear from Muslim parents who tell us that they choose our schools precisely because we take faith seriously and offer an approach to education that gives attention to spiritual as well as academic development. They welcome the opportunity to send their children to a school which will ensure mutual understanding of faiths whilst being clear about the Christian heritage and underpinning narrative on which its ethos and values are based. Like the millions of others who have attended such a school, they know that we prepare children for life in modern Britain and a world that is increasingly connected.

The last year has seen a worrying rise in the numbers of registered hate crimes and racial or cultural tensions. The increasingly nationalistic tendencies in countries around Europe and across the Atlantic lead some to conclude that we should build walls of division and implement policies that keep ‘others’ out. But we are proud that our Church of England schools are modelling an education where no passports are required and the doors are wide open to the communities they serve. At heart we are offering an education that is deeply Christian, serving the common good, and the millions of people who have had their lives enriched by such an education will be pleased to know that we continue to do so.

Exploring a calling to ordination in the CofE

Renewal and Reform has an ambitious aim to increase substantially the number of people in training for the priesthood. The Rev Dr Sharon Prentis is at Tutor at St Mellitus College in London and associate priest at St John’s Seven Kings in Illford.

St Mellitus is a learning community dedicated to helping Christians study theology and explore their faith more deeply, with a focus on missional leadership and the flexibility to fit around busy lifestyles. We spoke to Rev Prentis, who spoke at a recent conference on growing vocations, about discipleship and calling.

‘Let’s treat water as sacred’ – Archbishop of Cape Town

The Archbishop of Cape Town has appealed to people in industrialised countries to fight climate change through changing their lifestyles, in the wake of drought and flooding in southern Africa. The Most Rev Dr Thabo Makgoba called for people in developed countries to eat less red meat and recycle more to reduce the amount of plastic dumped in the seas. His remarks were made in an interview given in the UK to promote the JustWater campaign by churches worldwide to raise awareness of drought and floods and the need for access to safe water supplies and sanitation across the world. To read an address given in full by Archbishop Thabo at St Mary le Bow Church in the City of London see

Setting God’s People Free – Steven Croft

The Renewal and Reform report, Setting God’s People Free, comes to General Synod on 16 February. It calls for major culture shifts across the church in the way we equip people to live out their faith seven days a week. The Rt Revd Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, explains why the report and its recommendations are important levers for change.
More details of the report are here –…d-papers.aspx

Getting people talking about science and faith

Scientists are to be invited to perform experiments and talk about their work at a series of special Evensong services in Derby Cathedral. The services are being funded with a grant from Scientists in Congregations, a project to foster better understanding between science and faith. Rev Dr Elizabeth Thomson, Canon Missioner at Derby Cathedral and Professor Hugh Rollinson, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Derby explain more.

How the faith of retired people is helping transform lives

Tens of thousands of volunteers support social action projects in England run by churches including winter night shelters, lunch clubs, credit unions and food banks. Many of these volunteers are retired people, whose skills and experience are crucial to the success of this work. We spoke to six Church of England worshippers who are retired or describe themselves as in ‘phased’ retirement and are involved in work from street pastors groups to helping people in debt.

George Martin, in his 70s, a worshipper at Southwark Cathedral, who formerly worked in international sales and at Buckingham Palace, is chair of the trustees of the Robes Project, the churches’ winter night shelter in the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.

The shelter started in 2007 with seven church halls and has grown over the past 10 years to 30 church venues of all denominations, supported by 800 volunteers. The project has a major fund raising drive every year with a Sleepout at Southwark Cathedral, raising £97,000 for its work last November with the organisers hoping this total will rise to £100,000. Over the past six years, the sleepout has raised almost £500,000 towards the running costs of operating the shelter. “I have done all the voluntary jobs, cooking, washing up, meeting and greeting, I have stayed overnight, I have done the breakfast run. I joined the team at Christ Church Blackfriars  for their night shelter and I will doing the cooking once for 20 guests over the next 10 weeks – that number rises to 28 or more because we all sit down together to eat, the guests and the volunteers, ” he said. “Some people say that as chair I am too hands on but I feel that is my role. I do it from the heart, because I believe that what I am doing is what the church should be doing. Robes has saved lives over the past 10 years. As chair, I go round as many of the venues as possible.”

Avril Loveless, 61, in ‘phased retirement’, works part-time as Professor of Education at Brighton University.

A worshipper at All Saints Church, Hove, she acts at coordinator of the night shelter at the church, part of a network of churches in the area hosting the shelter over 18 weeks between November and January. “I coordinate one day a week of the shelter. We have around 40 volunteers on our books and provide a hot meal and overnight accommodation for around 15 people who need it. Four people take turns to stay awake overnight in pairs in four-hour shifts. It is quite a precious time, just sitting quietly as the guests sleep. Some of the guests in the shelter go to work the following morning, so they have to get up early and freshen up. We serve them with a light breakfast and other guests then go off to a place called First Base which is a charity in Brighton that offers a full breakfast, showers and housing advice. The voluntary work is inter-generational and across all walks of life. We have energetic younger people who also volunteer for the lifeboats and people in their 80s who volunteer to do the overnight shifts. Over the last year, I have learned about the power of volunteers to come together as communities and keep a light burning during dark times.”

Dr Andrew Miller, 69, a retired NHS consultant in respiratory medicine and a worshipper at St Aldates Church in Oxford, has worked voluntarily as a street pastor since 2010 and is chairman of the Oxford group.  “We are a group of 19 trained volunteers from across the Christian denominations. We are in partnership with the police, night clubs and the council. We try to work in a group of at least three every Saturday and one Friday a month – especially after pay day when many people go out and celebrate. We leave our base at around 1045pm and we finish usually around 3.45am the next day. Our motto is ‘caring, listening, helping’ and we help people in a range of situations – handing out water and a space blanket for warmth, flip flops where clubbers have abandoned walking in their high heels, or lollipops as a way of defusing tensions. There are people who want to talk – I recently met somebody who had just been to a friend’s funeral and was pretty distraught and just wanted someone to listen, as do some rough sleepers. We don’t tell people what to do, we don’t preach, we let them talk and we listen. We walk six to eight miles a shift and we walk slowly, if you walk at normal speed people don’t tend to stop and talk to you. People are often curious and baffled as to why we do this work for nothing but they are glad we are there as a presence on the streets. We are a range of different people working as street pastors. In south London, where I worked as a street pastor before, we had two 83-year-old team members; one was so famous for her work that she was known on the streets as ‘The Legend’.”

Jewel Ahumibe, 67, a specialist neonatal nurse, from Birmingham, retired after nearly 40 years in the NHS in 2012.

A worshipper at St John’s Sparkhill since 1980, she began work as a volunteer helper at the Good Companion lunch club, part of the Narthex centre, in Birmingham last August. The lunch club meets on Tuesdays with around 16 elderly people attending. The Narthex Centre provides community facilities and services from the church, including a food bank, a resource store for refugees and asylum seekers and a youth club. “I am healthy and I know that there will come a time when I need help as well. I thought ‘why not give my time when I can?’” she said. “The clients arrive before the lunch and we have a bit of a chat, and then they play Bingo. They do some exercises and then they have lunch before they get picked up by the Ring and Ride. Last week we had a trip to the Pantomime and saw Dick Whittington. The people who come along are really appreciative.”

Phil and Christine Bromwich, from All Saints Church, Murston, Sittingbourne, Kent, work voluntarily at Murston Community Bank, based in the church and a savings club at Sunny Bank Primary school in Sittingbourne. Phil, 68, worked previously in costing and estimating work for a manufacturing company and Christine, 70, is a former school office manager. The couple, who first met when they were working at Barclay’s Bank, were able to use their expertise to help set up the community bank, a branch of Kent Savers credit union, three years ago. They now work for the bank a morning a week, and help administer a branch through a savings club at Sunny Bank Primary School in Sittingbourne, Kent, two mornings a week. They are planning to set up a debt advice centre at All Saints Church. “People come to the bank in all sort of situations.  It is very satisfying to meet people who have come to us severely in debt, knowing that you may not have solved all their problems, but you have been the catalyst for change for the better in their lives,” Phil said.

– Martha Linden Senior Media Officer, Archbishops’ Council