The needs of this community come first

Published: Tuesday August 31, 2021

75 children, most on free school meals, have been fed in Cheltenham this week as part of a holiday club run by St Paul’s Church.

The children from the local community took part in crafts, sports, messy games and Bible stories as part of the Great Adventures club. There was capacity for 75 children each day.

In addition to this club, the church will also be giving meal vouchers to children who need feeding this summer.

The Revd Roger Widdecombe, Team Vicar at St Paul’s Church said, “Feed Cheltenham asked us how we could best get funding for food out to our community. We thought the best answer was to have some vouchers that we could give to families for the School House Cafe . Children on free school meals can get two vouchers for a meal over the summer break.”

Roger said that the key to their church’s mission is that everything the local church does, needs to be focussed on the local community. The limited space and resources available need to be prioritised for those who live in the parish.

“In order to prioritise our local community, we often have to turn away people from further afield. We’ve found that we have to define who we’re here for and what our mission is.”

To come to the local Parent and Toddler group, you need to be living in the St Paul’s area or invited along by a church member. In the past, the church has had to turn away people who come from too far.

“It’s part and parcel of being in an urban setting. We’re right in the centre of town, but we still serve a residential community. We’ve come to realise that our mission is not to the whole of Cheltenham – there are other big churches who are able to do that really well. Our mission is focused on our small, residential parish.

“When we arrived in the area 15 years ago, St Paul’s was the worst in Gloucestershire for poverty affecting children and joblessness in under 25s. We’re a small area with significant deprivation and our mission is about sharing the love of Jesus with each and every one of these people.

“Local people welcome the church and they think it’s a good thing. Many are receptive to the message, but, as one lady told me, ‘most of us just don’t think we’re good enough.’

“Our small staff team and the wonderful church really believe that this is God’s work and not ours. Our job is to be obedient and God will use that. If the church grows, we have more resources to bless the community. A few handfuls of people have come to Jesus through the work that we do. We can’t point to a specific project that has brought people into a relationship with Jesus – it’s about the multiple, different interconnections that make up living in a place.”

The church also serves more affluent parts of Cheltenham where problems still exist, but may not be as obvious.

Roger admires the work done by Pioneer Minister Wendy Ruffle in Tewkesbury. He said, “God has used Wendy to build a church made of local people, rather than a church that just serves local people. That’s something that we aspire to here in Cheltenham.”

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