By Margaret Blakey
Wouldn’t it be great if sharing our faith was as simple as inviting our neighbours to join us in shared spaces that feel just like our own front rooms, to chat over our hobbies and interests, or over a shared jigsaw or a game? Wouldn’t it be great if we could share our faith by demonstrating our faith habits as the everyday part of our life that they are, or, at least, should be? And, of course, it actually is!
Earlier in the summer we celebrated the 5th anniversary of ‘Renew Wellbeing’, the charity established to help churches to create safe spaces of wellbeing where ‘it’s ok not to be ok.’ We currently have thirteen Renew spaces open within WEBNET churches, with several others in the region affiliated to other denominations. This means that we are able to create local networks of Renew spaces, encouraging one another, sharing ideas and also building on the community partnerships which are developing in local areas.
It was really exciting to witness the opening of Renew 193 in Weston Super Mare, a partnership between Baptist Churches in the town. It was lovely to pop in back in July and meet some regulars and to hear how partnerships and relationships are developing. Renew 193 is particularly inspiring in its simplicity of design, the friendships between the volunteers from the different churches, and the warm welcome that is extended to the guests who pop in from the High Street who already consider themselves part of the Renew 193 community.
Over the summer I popped in to one of our older Renew spaces, Renew 15 in Devizes. It was so lovely to join in with a choice of activity and to chat with those sat around me. One of my favourite aspects of my job is the new and varied friendships that I make on a weekly basis. I was particularly inspired to hear the story of one regular who has a history of significant trauma share the story of the impact that Renew 15 has had on her life, and how the regular rhythm of prayer has enabled her to sense that there is someone bigger than our understanding who cares for her. She shared, with a real sense of pride, the various creative activities that the group have participated in, with plenty of variety and choice.
It has also been exciting to hear about local networks developing, including in North Bristol, where several Renew spaces are partnering together, including Baptists and Anglicans, to develop spaces across their area. It was good to hear how they inspire and encourage one another and to visit one of the new spaces that is about to open.
As we move into this new academic year, we are conscious that many are struggling, not only financially, but also with loneliness and grief. A Renew space is a simple way in which we can offer a welcome to our community, with an intentional awareness of spiritual wellbeing, as well as mental and physical. I am amazed and filled with optimism as people join us for prayer who may never have considered this before, but the simple patterns allow them to meet with God for themselves and begin a journey of relationship and discipleship. We are especially conscious, this season, of the need to provide warm spaces for our communities, and we are encouraging our centres to be aware of this in their local community and to partner with others in their communities to offer a place of warm welcome.
Renew Wellbeing spaces are founded on 3 ‘p’s – Presence: offering simple activities and refreshment, with a warm welcome and hosts who build friendship with guests; Partnership: building partnerships with other community groups, health services, housing associations etc in order to signpost to one another as appropriate; and lastly, but the key for a Renew space, Prayer: a regular rhythm of simple prayer, and a quiet prayer space, that is optional but all are welcome to join in, or to use the space to be quiet and still.
My role remains a busy one, with several more Renew spaces in the planning stages in this area, and I also cover churches across a couple of other Baptist associations as well. I have now increased my hours with Renew Wellbeing to two days a week: my main working days are Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I have some flexibility and can offer to meet on other days, as my diary allows. If you would like a chat or some advice on how a Renew space can help you connect with your community and offer a warm welcome to all, then contact me on email@example.com