When Gill Heron and her husband Simon moved to Cheltenham from North Essex in the middle of lockdown, they were determined that the closure of the church building wouldn’t be a barrier to building community.
In February, the PCC came up with a vision for their church:
“To get connected, to be community, and to show compassion.”
Gill and Simon thought about what being connected and being community meant to them and put forward an idea for trying a different way of doing church. She said, “We became so aware that people were craving seeing each other. Zoom became very important, but we also wanted to give people opportunity to connect back together, to reconnect.”
During June, July and August, their church decided to use every 4th Sunday to do church in a different way. The church gathered at 9am for a short service and then the worshipping community is sent out with a challenge to go out and be church in the community, instead of attending the 10.30am worship -being church beyond our walls.
She said, “The church family have been invited to be creative in ways of being church – showing hospitality to friends and neighbours, walking together, undertaking community service…”
For the first Community Sunday, Gill and Simon (who is the vicar at Christ Church, Cheltenham) hosted a rolling breakfast in their vicarage garden all morning, with lots of coffee and bacon sandwiches.
Gill said, “God teaches us to be hospitable and to meet with others and we’ve always enjoyed that. We’ve been given this lovely vicarage and a lovely big garden which we are now able to share. Jesus modelled having breakfast together and he taught us that as Christians we can grow through relationship. When we spend time with people we can find out what’s happening in their lives, know them, encourage them and support them. It’s not about getting people into church, but about building community and relationships and then being there for people.”
Children played football in the garden and made Lego™ models together. A group went litter picking around the community, and another visited care homes to give gifts to the staff. Many friends invited others for meals in homes.
Later in the afternoon the church family gathered in an informal service to think about what it means to be Christians in our daily lives and share stories of the day.
When Gill left Essex, she left her job as a primary schools development worker with a Christian youth charity, facilitating prayer spaces in schools. While children’s spirituality is still her passion, she is also branching out to learn more about using social media for the parish and making new connections.
Gill said, “I’m very aware how hard it can be to step out of a comfort zone to try something new. This season has demanded that we do things differently. It has been encouraging that the church family, many of whom we haven’t met properly yet, have been willing to try something new and it has been lovely to have such a positive response to it.”
She continued, “It’s always hard moving to a new place – you’re taken completely out of your comfort zone and lose all your friends and support networks. Covid has taught us that things don’t have to be done the way they always were and its exciting to see what God has in store for us here.”
Catch Gill on BBC Radio Gloucestershire at 7:10 this Sunday with more about their July Community Church Day.