Over the last four years, Cheltenham Network Church and the South Cheltenham Churches have run an annual Family Fun Day in Warden Hill Cheltenham. This is a free event with bouncy castle, lots of craft activities, a prayer space, gospel choir, police/fire service, refreshments and more. Each time we have welcomed several hundred local people and it is a good way to build on other community connections made throughout the year.
This year we settled on Saturday 19 May for the Funday, which then became Royal Wedding day! We wondered whether we should move the Funday to another day, but in the end we decided that we would include Harry and Meghan’s wedding as part of the events. We had recently installed large television screens in the main church space at St Christopher’s, and a quick test (featuring an episode of Dad’s Army!) showed that we were able to stream live TV at a reasonable volume. So we decided that we would show the wedding in the church, and set up café style tables and chairs as well as providing free teas and coffees and homemade cakes.
When the 19 May arrived the weather was lovely, and after the hard work of the volunteers everything was set up and ready to go. We had a steady stream of people arriving from 11 am and taking part in all the activities. The church gradually started to fill up with people as well. It was noticeable that a lot more elderly people came by themselves than in previous years, and the tables in the church were soon surrounded with people of all ages and there was a great buzz of conversation. Then almost by accident someone mentioned that the order of service for the wedding was online, and someone else said that we could sing along to the hymns…next thing the hymn numbers were up on the board and the hymn books were given out. It was amazing to look around at a church full of people who would never be there on a Sunday, from across the generations, standing and singing hymns together. A wonderful community moment that made the wedding and the Funday extra-special.
Afterwards I have thought a lot about this. When we talk about fresh expressions of church, and courageous worship, we often think of activities outside our church buildings or we try all different ways to help people get over the ‘barrier’ of coming into our churches on a Sunday to join our Sunday worship. But here was an example of at least 80 people who weren’t churchgoers coming into a church building and happily singing hymns and taking part in a church service, even though it wasn’t actually happening in that building. It made me wonder what other simple opportunities we might have to invite people into church to sing hymns as part of other national events? So was this courageous worship? I think the answer is yes, we added a traditional church element to our community event, and helped to normalise church for those who would never normally join Sunday worship. Why not think about including sing-a-long-a-hymn if your church is involved in hosting a community event?