Deepening relationships in lockdown
Shirley Warren Action Church has developed deeper community connections by meeting local needs during the coronavirus crisis – and a Baptist Union grant has played a part
The Baptist church’s building is a key community gathering point in the Shirley Warren area of Southampton. Lots of groups meet there in addition to the church’s numerous activities, which include a daily community café and a Friday lunch club.
Like many with much used buildings, the church experienced a sudden loss in revenue as a result of the lockdown. It made use of our Baptist Union’s coronavirus financial support scheme.
‘We are a key community building in Shirley Warren and have lost a lot of income,’ explains minister the Revd Jenny Elliott. ‘So some of the grant is towards general costs, keeping the building running.
‘Some of the grant has helped our community work, and we have been very grateful for it.’
Jenny explained that when lockdown happened, the church created a new contacts list based on these connections and its own membership. It contacted everybody on the list, asking them what kind of support they needed at that point.
A range of responses were received: some people were looking for daily or regular contact, many needed help with shopping, others lunch on Friday.
‘What we tried to do was meet these individual needs where possible,’ says Jenny.
‘I’ve been surprised at how forthcoming people have been. Some of the most unlikely people have said they could do with regular phone calls, for instance - people you would have least expected. So there’s been lots of baking cakes, (socially distanced) visiting, buying plants and compost - a lot of elderly people have been so upset that they couldn’t get out to buy bedding plants for their garden. These things may seem insignificant to some, but for others it’s important and actually has a big impact on their wellbeing.’
One much appreciated outcome is its continued provision of a hot meal on Friday. The pre-lockdown lunch club was attended by an average of around 20 people.
‘For many on Friday, it was the only place they would go,’ says Jenny. ‘Many are unchurched, but would describe the lunch club as their church. So we were able to build up some relationship with them and there is a real sense of belonging.
‘In lockdown we have delivered a lot of meals along with people’s shopping. It’s the highlight of a lot of people’s weeks. For some it might have been their only contact. And nobody who we delivered meals to is a member of the church.’
She says the church has been blessed with one its members Christine, a lady with additional needs who works for Sainsbury’s and lives independently. Every week Christine has shopped for two or three elderly people.
‘Without Christine we would have been in a very different situation – she has been amazing.’
With the combination of its community connections, Baptist Union grant and selfless volunteers like Christine, the church has met many people’s needs and deepened its community relationships during the lockdown.
‘We have definitely stepped up connections with members of the community,’ says Jenny. ‘Some people don’t know if they can trust you - they have a general mistrust of the church - and this has helped to build up trust.
‘Some people have even said ‘when we come out of lockdown, can we come to your church?’
‘Of course they can – we are a church that welcomes everyone.’