Sutton St James Baptist Church
Sue Hensby, Pastor
‘Open the doors and love people’ – this was the call that God laid on the hearts of Sue and Arnie Hensby as He called them to pick up the baton of leadership in a rural chapel at the heart of a village near Spalding in Lincolnshire in the Autumn of 2017.
Sutton St James village has much to offer its community of approximately 1,100 people, including a village shop, butcher, baker, hairdresser and pub. It is also blessed with a village hall and a church hall which offer numerous venues for special functions. So, in many ways, the village is well served. However, Sue and Arnie were struck by the lack of a gathering place to meet other than the pub. As a tiny baptist church in the heart of this Fenland village, their vision has been to provide a hub for the community, where people can meet for a cuppa and a chat, with the openness to allow folk to just sit and read the paper in comfortable, relaxed surroundings, access support and advice from visiting professionals, or find a place of peace, prayer and healing. Equipped with this vision they set about a plan for delivering it applying for over £100,000 worth of grants and seizing every opportunity for funds. Rural Ministries was pleased to be able to contribute in a small way towards the vision.
Project Refresh was launched and slowly things have come together first tackling the necessary repairs so that dampness and draughts were no longer an issue and installing a new state-of-the-art heating system. Even minor works were important, like the simple addition of an internal porch allowing the external door to be left open as a sign of welcome. Although the building did have to close due to the various lockdowns, this time was used to embark on the next phase of Project Refresh which was the creation of a kitchen/café space at the front of the building to help in their outreach. The building had become a ‘silent witness’ to our community that we were still planning for the future.
This drive to be open to the community was timely and paid dividends during the first covid lockdown when the Sue had discussions with the Parish Council, which resulted in them asking if the church would coordinate the Covid-19 response for the whole village. The outcome was that 500 leaflets with the Sue and Arnie’s contact details were printed by the council and delivered to every household. The response also involved Sue leading a team of 20 volunteers helping people with shopping, prescription collection etc., most of whom have not had any regular contact with church but witnessed church with its sleeves rolled up!
Another example of God’s perfect timing for the church was their association with the Renew Wellbeing movement. This focusses on supporting mental health based around shared hobbies, skills and interests making it much easier for people to join in with the activities rather than a more traditional style coffee morning. All of this is underpinned by a rhythm of prayer. Renew SSJ initially opened in October 2019 on a Friday morning and proved very popular, but this outreach along with everything else sadly had to close during the first lockdown – however the time of guided prayer was moved to a weekly Zoom meeting. In January 2021 they received an investment from the Lincolnshire Managed Care Network for Mental Health to enable the relaunch of Renew SSJ from April 2021 - not just once a week, but for two hours every weekday. The NHS recognised the importance of this outreach in the alleviation of loneliness, isolation & depression in our rural location and saw that SSJBC were so perfectly placed to respond to the increase in concern about mental health during the pandemic – SSJBC and are now a supplier to the NHS!
This status also helped the church revisiting partnerships with their local Social Prescribers, GPs and Mental Health teams so they are fully aware of SSJBC and what it can offer with regards to being present, prayerful and in partnership.
In the past four years this small baptist church has gone from being almost invisible to its community to being a core part of it; an open and welcoming place following God’s call “to open the doors and love people”.