A South England Conference Platform

Rosemary Lethbridge

Meeting Felt Needs In Our Community

Building strong friendships and a sense of belonging to a community has led many to feel part of our church, even to take baby steps towards a strong and active faith. We believe that God never intended us to become church congregations “doing spiritual” things in splendid isolation.

Building community during these difficult times might be considered by some to be challenging. It might be different, but it does not have to stop. When the SEC administration chose “Making disciples: Building communities” as our Conference goals, none of us could have foreseen how church life would be forced to change and adapt in 2020.

The Watering Hole church plant has always felt that God can and does help us in carrying out what is, after all, his Great Commission. We think that this cannot be done simply by attending church services, and so we came up with a mission statement that would not only remind us of our mission, but also give us guidance on how it might be achieved. “The Watering Hole exists to help people live, love, learn and laugh in Jesus’ name, for Jesus’ sake.” We are not here to simply enjoy the benefits of being part of God’s family but need to bless others and share the Good News.

For our local church congregation, it means helping people live more abundant lives by providing opportunities to improve their marriages, become better parents or even to learn a new skill. Regular classes and workshops provide opportunities for this to happen, where people not only learn but bond together over common interests into small communities that share, support and care for each other. Obviously, during Covid restrictions some activities simply could not run, but with a bit of creative thinking, we were able to take many of our workshops and clubs online. The opportunity to increase the frequency of these, from monthly to fortnightly or fortnightly to weekly, was taken in order to give people something to do during lockdown. This also had the advantage of building much stronger friendships as we “met” more regularly.

It is our belief that, by ministering to and with others in our community, not only do we foster community but more effectively impact our community for good. As we looked around at what was already happening in our community, we saw that our local church did not have the monopoly on serving and blessing this community. It has been a real privilege to work alongside other organisations, as well as establishing some of our own working practices. The way we have organised things is that members and others who share our values work within the area of their giftedness on projects, both regular and one-offs. We started TOTRAK (Totton Random Act of Kindness Club) as a way of advertising these activities. Now, head teachers, support workers, GPs and other concerned people in the community let us know of things that need doing for people too frail to do it themselves, or too limited in financial means to get the work done. Some projects need experts, and we are fortunate to have some kind, qualified people in the town willing to offer their services for free. Most years we try to organise workdays for larger projects that often fit in with calendar opportunities, such as National Make a Difference Week or World Kindness Day.

The “love” section of our mission statement included debt and benefit advice, community gardening projects, reading in schools, helping out at local events and numerous other ways to serve together.

These are not events but opportunities to become part of the lives of our neighbours, and we have been richly blessed as our friendship circle has increased. In order to really build community, these have had to be regular. During lockdown, with many of our church shielding or vulnerable themselves, this has been more challenging, but it has led to creating new ministries, such as sending cards and letters to people in care homes, checking in by phone or SMS on how struggling people in our community are doing.

You might be wondering about our “laugh” section of the mission statement. This is about allocating time in our busy lives to socialise and build strong friendships. We have enjoyed spending quality time with people over car treasure hunts, quiz nights, meals out, picnics in the forest and even some delightful holiday time in Chapel Porth.

Our 4th “L” is learned- learning more about God’s love, his desires for our life and what he wants for this world as he re-establishes community with us again in its best form.

When we started this church plant, we felt that sitting in pews staring at the backs of heads while a few led from the front was not going to build spiritual communities.  So  we decided to regularly include house churches, provide opportunities for discussion and sharing around tables during the service, as well as ending each service with a fellowship meal.  We also regularly use a variety of venues in order to take church services where people are gathering- even holding church in the New Forest. We have included a variety of activities and opportunities where people can also enjoy learning about God in less formal environments, such as puppet shows, creative arts services and even at some of our midweek clubs. You might say that church services have become a participation, not a spectator, sport!

Building strong friendships and a sense of belonging to a community has led many to feel part of our church, even to take baby steps towards a strong and active faith. We believe that God never intended us to become church congregations “doing spiritual” things in splendid isolation. The very word “church” is a collective noun for a group of people. We are not church if we are not experiencing community and reaching out to bless our communities.

By offering many, varied and, often, tailor-made opportunities for people to gather together and build strong links and bonds, our lives and that of the community in which we base ourselves have been richly blessed.