Small rural villages such as Sutton St James always look so idyllic when the sun is shining and the days are long – however, behind the picture-perfect facade can be a very different story, writes Sue Hensby.
Inside many pretty houses with large gardens surrounded by crop filled fields can be stories of loneliness and isolation. The lack of private or public transport, coffee shop to meet in, or other local amenities all add to the sense of feeling very alone.
This is our village – where God called us to serve back in October 2017 – to rebirth a baptist church in the heart of the Fens and to follow His call to “open the doors and love people”.
God laid on our hearts the vision to utilise the Old School Room at the front of the church building, which is situated in the heart of the village, and create a comfy café-style space that would eventually be open every day where ‘everyone knows your name’ and where everyone feels valued and that they ‘belong’.
At this point, we had not heard about Ruth Rice and Renew Wellbeing, but after hearing Ruth speak at an East Midlands Baptist Association Day in late 2018, we immediately knew that we wanted SSJBC to be part of this movement. We loved that Renew was based around shared hobbies, skills and interests as it made it much easier for people to join in with the activities rather than a more traditional style coffee morning. The rhythm of prayer underpinning Renew Wellbeing also fitted perfectly with SSJBC’s ethos that prayer underpins everything that we do. We loved the idea of creating prayer times where anyone, including those who don’t usually pray, could easily join in should they wish to.
When the idea was first shared with our church family, some people had reservations about using the Renew strapline of ‘Quiet shared spaces where it is OK not to be OK’. The valid concern was raised that, in a small village community, there could be some stigma attached to those who were seen to attend something which seemed to be focused primarily on those with mental health issues. For this reason, we decided to call this outreach ‘Renew SSJ’ rather than ‘Renew Wellbeing’ SSJ but, after Ruth’s training in 2019, all our volunteers agreed that the strapline should be used.
Renew SSJ opened in October 2019 for one session a week (9am – 1pm). Several new people came through our doors as well as some regulars, all interacting on a different level than they had at our traditional coffee mornings. We had a regular scrabble game, draughts, people doing jigsaw puzzles and colouring and the care home found their residents enjoyed coming along to take part in something that wasn’t just talking.
Many people would choose to join our regular time of guided prayer at midday. We made cards relating to the specific psalm the wider Renew Wellbeing family would be focusing on in the time of prayer so that people could take something away with them. These proved to be very popular. During lockdown, we had to close our doors, but for the last two years we have been fundraising to transform the Old School Room into a comfy coffee-bar hub, and so we stepped out in faith to get this work done whilst the building was closed. Work is expected to be completed as you read this! SSJBC has been leading the COVID-19 response in the village with shopping and prescription collection for many who have had to isolate. As we have come to know these people, they have made it very clear that they are looking forward to the opportunity of meeting up with others from within the village and see SSJBC as the place that this can happen.
It is great news that Renew Wellbeing centres are now being viewed as Support Groups, and as such we are planning to reopen again on this basis. We are also revisiting partnerships with our local Social Prescribers, GPs and Mental Health teams so they are fully aware of who we are and what we can offer them with regards to being present, prayerful and in partnership. Following feedback from the community, when we reopen it will be for a couple of hours every day rather than just four hours once a week, so people know there is always somewhere to go and someone to listen. Do continue to pray for us as we continue this ministry.