‘God has really touched our hearts for these members of our community’
An extra £2 billion was announced by the Government this week to help tackle the social care crisis. We talked to three parishes in Salisbury and Bristol Dioceses where congregations are stepping in to meet the needs of the elderly, struggling families and people discharged from hospital with cleaning, gardening and decorating work.
At St Peter’s Church in Lawrence Weston, North West Bristol, ‘St Peter’s clean team’, cleans people’s homes and carries out tasks such as litter picking and decorating. The group was founded by Emma Murray and her husband Rev Dr Andy Murray, priest-in-charge of St Peter’s and St Andrew’s Avonmouth, as a response to the needs they had seen running the Bristol North West Food Bank, which carries out home deliveries to up to six households a month in the area.
Rev Murray said: “We had been running the food bank for a number of years when we realised that we were not reaching a certain part of the community – Emma had done some work with the local GP surgery and health visitors who said ‘we are seeing people coming out of hospital who are permanently housebound’ – was there anything that we could do for them? Doing home deliveries for the food bank as a result of this request really opened our eyes to the sort of situations that some people are living in, in terms of not being able to care for themselves or keep on top of cleaning their homes. God has really touched our hearts for these members of our local community and He spoke clearly to Emma about starting the clean team. The project is still in its infancy, and the amount we can do is limited by the number of people able to help. However in spite of the small size of our team, we’ve had the opportunity to bless a wide range of people in our community, cleaning the homes of some elderly residents, and even a bit of painting and decorating. We’ve also helped a couple of people recovering from serious injuries, cleaning their homes, and even doing their washing. Some residents have needed several visits over a month or so, whereas for others, one visit is enough.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive, people know we are Christians and they want to know why we do this. This has given us an opportunity to talk about our faith, about God’s love for them and his desire to see us serve others and show Jesus’ love in practical ways.”
At St Mary’s Church in Marlborough a team of congregation members provide practical help for people in the town including painting and redecorating, gardening, birthday cakes for children and making meals for struggling families. The group also provided 25 Christmas stockings for children last Christmas. Families in need are identified by a parents’ support adviser working with a local primary and secondary school. The group, set up around three years ago, is now looking to extend the work to reaching more elderly people in the town. Rev Janneke Blokland, team curate at St Mary’s, said: “Marlborough looks like a prosperous area but there are pockets of deprivation which are well hidden – around a quarter of housing in Marlborough is social housing which you wouldn’t expect and the shops in the high street are just too expensive for some people. We don’t proselytise, we don’t expect people who receive these services to come to church afterwards. By doing this work we show that somebody cares, that God cares. It takes huge courage to allow these groups of people into your house but people have been very appreciative. We had one single mother who had received a meal who accidentally sent us a text meant for her mother saying ‘there’s been some lovely church people who have dropped off a meal’. It has done so much good for the members of the congregation too who have taken part. Not everyone necessarily wants to lead home groups in the church but many people are very happy to garden or do painting. We have two people in the congregation who are very good at making curtains, and a few people who love baking. Three years now into the project we are really starting to build relationships with people in the community.”
Jenny Jones, a member of St James’ Church in Devizes, helped set up ‘the Noise’ in the town, modelled on a similar scheme in Bristol where volunteers work in the community. A group of 105 volunteers from the church cleared eight gardens last year in the town working in partnership with a housing association. They also ‘deep clean’ the local Alzheimer’s Support Day Centre twice a year and have worked on projects such as creating a wildlife area in a local primary school. ‘Our help is freely offered and non judgmental, we simply lift what has become an unbearable burden completely away from people who may have had difficulties maintaining their garden – either because a family member has fallen ill or had an accident or has simply left. We all wear blue T shirts which say on the back simply ‘The Noise: showing God’s love in practical ways’. Going out in a group helps people to feel more confident. Some of our congregation volunteer regularly in charity shops and they don’t necessarily get the chance to say that their motivation is loving your neighbour. This has been a way of meeting people that we definitely wouldn’t normally have met. Some have been invited as a result of the work to come to the Christmas lunch at the church. We see this as sowing small seeds – we don’t know where it will go, but it is changing attitudes to the church in the community.”
– Martha Linden, Senior Media Officer, Archbishops’ Council