- Revd Tracey Morris, Priest-in Charge of St Columba’s, Authorised Minister of Stephen Hill Methodist church, and Oversight Minister in the H4 Mission Area,
- Steve Ellis, Licensed Reader and Focal Minister,
- Tara Osborne, Children’s Minister and Focal Minister.
You’ve been working well in partnership with local GP surgeries. How did this first come about?
One of our church wardens is a retired practice nurse of many years’ service who was able to help when the pandemic started and questions were asked about running vaccination clinics in one of the churches in Crosspool, as there had been concerns about the spread of Covid in GP surgeries.
St Columba’s was settled on as being probably the best of those. We thought initially we would be doing a few days of Covid vaccinations. We didn’t realise there were 30,000 people eligible in the first series of vaccinations. From 2021 through to the middle of last year in the spring campaign, I think we’ve delivered over 50,000 vaccinations in the church with the medical team, working with five surgeries as part of the West Five Primary Care Network.
As a result of that, we’ve done other things with the Network. The most recent development, and I think a particularly exciting one, is the team of social prescribers. They rent a room in St Columba’s and we’re looking at working in partnership with them this year, including starting a dementia café. Social prescribers are a team of people that are funded by the Primary Care Network to work with people who can’t be clinically diagnosed and treated by the surgeries, but who are recognised as people needing extra support. We work with other community support groups in the area, particularly ‘Care in Crosspool’ which is a charity based in our church.
Do you take encouragement from being seen as a focal point for the community?
Absolutely! Crosspool is a real community place. It’s like a big village. When St Columba’s opened their doors to be a vaccine centre, it was big news within the community. All across the Facebook groups and neighbourhoods, everybody knew St Columba’s was the place to go to get your vaccine. It wasn’t just the practical element; the feedback coming through was, “my goodness, I’ve just had my vaccine at St Columba’s and it was the most wonderful experience and that is the best place.” It wasn’t just a place to get your jab and go; there would be people giving care, love and attention. St Columba’s and Stephen Hill churches had already begun a partnership at this stage. In order for St Columba’s to do their vaccine centre, Stephen Hill gave support for the worship side of things in order to allow St Columba’s building to be the vaccine centre. This strengthened the covenant and brought them together to worship as one.
When I got the job (as Oversight Minister), I already knew how amazing the partnership was and it was really wonderful knowing this place is known by the community as a really good place, and it is a place I can trust. When we do events, there is a really positive attitude from many locals, with a feeling that St Columba’s and Stephen Hill are part of the community.
One of the things we spent a lot of time doing during the vaccination programme was offering a safe space for people who, for instance, were neurodivergent, or needle phobic (or both!). We were able to take them to a private, secure place which the bigger centres didn’t have the facility to do. The vaccination process was a whole church initiative: Columba’s team did the practical, upfront stuff with the vaccines and Stephen Hill members came to help, as well as people from St Luke’s in Lodge Moor. The clinical director said two things to me after a year: one was hilarious and one was very powerful. Firstly, he said “I never realised before that the Vicar of Dibley was in fact, a documentary series!” But the other thing he said, which was powerful, was “I have, for the first time in my life, seen the Church offering love and faith in action.”
There’s no agenda. We’re here to do God’s work; we’re not here to force God on people. It’s not transactional.
What work with young people is involved in Crosspool? What impact has it had?
I do predominately children and family work within the community and I try to connect to the unconnected. I was employed full time just before the pandemic; part time at St Columba and then part time for Stephen Hill. It soon became a full time role, working for one community of two churches, and I had the exciting opportunity to come up with a fresh expression of a group that could form.
I came up with something called ‘Family Fun Friday’ for the whole family to attend. It was all ready to launch but then we went into lockdown. I wondered how we could carry on pursuing this and we ended up coming up with an amazing idea of ‘Family Fun Friday bags’ which was something that launched throughout the pandemic. People could come individually to a secure plastic box that was left outside the church building and take a bag.
Inside the bag was a prayer idea, a games board, a bag of fresh popcorn, a DVD and an activity so that all the family could take the bag away for the weekend and do the activities at home while they were in isolation. I put it on Facebook and it kind of took off to the point where I only produced a few bags at first and I ended up running out and constantly needing more.
After the lockdown, and following this we managed to launch Family Fun Friday in person properly, which has grown and is still growing, which is fantastic. It meets once a month and we have lots of families – mainly families from the community and not from churches. The team originally went from a small number of three helpers and we now need at least ten volunteers for it to run.
There’s a fear in the church generally that sometimes you look around on a Sunday morning and say “where are the children and where are the families?” There are lots of different reasons why families don’t always come to church services, for some it is because Sunday mornings don’t work well for some people. Our reply is often “we might not see them right now – but Tara does!” They do exist and they are becoming part of the church. This is a new thing that’s developing, but it’s made us all think differently about ministry and mission.
It isn’t that we’re not reaching families because Tara sees 70+ people of different ages. I think it really struck us.
Over the last 12 months, the congregation has grown from an average of 40, 45 on a Sunday morning to an average of around 60 to 70 with some peaks at 80. I think it’s a result of increased engagement with younger families, which is great. It also links with the work Tara’s doing in the local primary school, because a lot of the families who are involved in Family Fun Friday have children at that school, and the kids there know Tara.
During a really tough time, Tara reached out to families in a way that was really helpful for them and again showed the church is trustworthy, loving and wants to be there for them.
How enriching has the link with the school been?
It’s been fantastic. I was originally invited in by the head of Year Six and she became friends with me. I was invited to start doing assemblies on religious education and anything that would potentially reach the children. That’s grown rapidly and I really grasp the opportunity of being able to feed into the curriculum. I came up with a group called “Craft with Meaning” on a Thursday, where I go in every Thursday into a school of multi-faith and I’m able to connect with the unconnected.
The sessions are so popular they’re now in the main hall, whereas before we were placed in a small room. It just grows and grows every week. I try to prep for around eighty and last week had to prep for over 100 and it’s just getting crazy busy, which is fantastic. What’s nice is it’s really opening up conversations about connections with God, whether people have a faith and whether people know about Jesus. The school is so supportive and, Lord willing, will carry on and flourish in that direction of growing God’s kingdom.
How would you sum up St Columba’s and Stephen Hill’s place in the community?
One of the things that’s changed significantly as a result of the pandemic is we have been seen to be people who are part of the community rather than a group that you have to specifically walk through a door and join. We are seen as open to the community; supporting the community.
We’ve opened our doors in all occasions, but people don’t just see us as church buildings; they see us as somewhere they can feel welcomed back into the process. I’d sum us up as open doors, because I feel like anybody from the community could step in.
We are a place of refuge. A place where all can come and be loved and welcomed with open arms. We are a community that has a desire to get involved and support the community in any way we can, no conditions, no strings attached. Faith and love in action.