Over Lent 2021, 40 ordinary disciples across the Diocese told their stories of how following Jesus has led them to action.

Serving communities; challenging injustice; loving their neighbour.

Week 4

We’ll hear from Hilary whos using her professional skills to help us raise awareness of Modern Slavery; from Christian who’s mentoring local teenage boys in business skills; from Sarah who’s seeing God work through serving local struggling familes; from Ken whose faithful volunteering has led to setting up a clothing bank; from Steve whose ministry to tackle loneliness brings such a burst of joy; and from Limmy a young environmental campaigner determined to encourage her generation to get involved.

Day 19: Hilary’s Story

“I do believe the role of churches is not just to be cosy and happy but come together to do something to serve their wider community.”

For many years Hilary has worked as a full time executive & team coach as well as writing about and delivering leadership development. In the last few years, her passion for relationships and investing in people led her to explore where God was leading her.

“I realised I wanted to be involved in an area of social impact, where I could help apply my facilitating skills.”

By chance, she was at a church event and met someone from the Clewer Initiative: which works within the Church of England to raise awareness of, and take action to combat Modern Slavery.

“It seemed to fit really well with my beliefs: it’s about helping people be noticed, have a voice and be treated fairly.”

Clewer helps churches develop awareness of slavery in their local area, to work with other agencies to prevent slavery locally, and to ensure that the projects they might already be involved with like foodbanks, street pastors, or winter night shelters, are slavery-proof.

“What really appealed was being able to help churches to be aware of what’s going on and to be able to do something through their mission.”

Hilary now volunteers with Clewer as an expert facilitator of their “Hidden Voices”- a training programme aimed at engaging local churches around Modern Slavery, what might be happening in their areas and galvanising them to see what they can do locally to raise awareness and take action.

Knowing what she does is helping those who have been treated in appalling ways has helped motivate her:

“If I hadn’t been a church member, Clewer’s aim to use church communities to tackle slavery wouldn’t have resonated in the same way.

Jesus told us that everyone is equal in the eyes of God; and so the really outrageous stories I heard about – people being treated like objects - struck me very powerfully.”

She is also excited about this work being explored with inter-faith groups as she is hoping to do in East London– finding the common ground among people of different faiths.

Day 20: Christian’s Story

“My business has been successful so I am privileged I have time to give back. We don’t need to go elsewhere: we have plenty of need in London.”

A chance conversation over mulled wine led Christian into an amazing ministry building confidence and business skills in young teenagers. Christian attended a Christmas service at St Ethelberga in Fulham, where afterwards he got talking the vicar Father Ross.

“He asked if there was anything I wanted to get involved in?

I said if there is one thing I want help with, it is the younger generation –especially the ones struggling, the ones at a disadvantage compared to others. They are the ones I really want to help.”

Christian had worked for in business and consultancy for over 20 years. So In 2019, he and Father Ross decided to commit some time and put together a free 5 week business programme for young people.

Father Ross approached the local secondary school who he already had contacts with. They were very keen to try it out.

“To our surprise, our pitch was successful. We immediately started the programme with a first cohort of 10 boys at the school, out of school hours.”

The course offers the basics of business, finance, communications, the various roles within a company and also offers them interview training.

“We have seen through the time, the behaviour of young people change, I have seen them mature once they realised that they could make it in business. The course has helped them feel respected.”

Since then the programme has developed; drawing in more volunteers to lead it, more cohorts of students and even setting up a “Dragons Den” style 3 day boot camp over the summer in the church.

Covid and closure of schools has put a pause on the work, but Christian knows that what they are doing is making a real difference and is keen to get going again.

“All of us are looking forward to the next iteration of this programme. Intergenerational engagement within communities is definitely something I am glad to have taken part in.

His underlying Christian values, and motivation to make a difference, with encouragement and support from Father Ross, has really driven him:

“My faith is more in the doing than in the thinking. Faith is structural way to express your values. I’m not an intellectual Christian, but I’m super committed to acting out my faith.”

Day 21: Sarah’s Story

“I’ve had a lot of experience of talking to local people and understanding their circumstances. People open up to me and know I’m not going to judge them.”

Sarah has worked in various roles in her local community for the last 25 years – first as the Children’s Drop-in lead at her local church, St Mary’s Kilburn, followed by paid and voluntary roles in the local schools. After being made redundant in 2019, Sarah has ended up back in a community co-ordinating role at St Mary’s.

They had just re-established the Children’s Drop-in group, supporting struggling local families. And then Covid hit.

“We tried to maintain contact and provide support via phonecalls and doorstep drops. We made sure our vulnerable families had links to local foodbanks.”

But as the pandemic drew on, Sarah wanted to make sure local children did not go without at Christmas. She started a fundraising campaign to buy gifts for local children whose families may struggle to cover cost of presents.

“My initial aim was to raise £1500 – enough to prepare 100 gift bags. I wanted the gifts to be of good quality and age appropriate so that each child felt valued.”

People gave generously, and by building links with another charity – In Kind Direct – St Mary’s provided a phenomenal 169 gift bags at Christmas. These were distributed to the school children, Doorstep Homeless Families Project and to a local event.

Lockdown has made Sarah more determined to tackle the isolation in her community. She’s doing a training course with Camden Community Champions to build on the relationships she already has while linking up with others in the Kilburn area.

“We’re trying to get a gardening project going that involves people from the church and the local community – to try and tackle loneliness and mental health while addressing green issues. We’d like to build intergenerational relationships.”

Sarah says her faith is very simple, but she considers herself very privileged to be involved in the work of the church.

“I love the helping, the sharing and the giving. Walking into church people find comfort. I love seeing the smiles on people’s faces and the joy.”

Day 22: Ken’s Story

“Volunteering is an important part of my life and I’d encourage others to do the same”.

Ken is a volunteer at the clothing bank at St. John the Evangelist, Brownswood Park, Hackney.

The church has a long established soup kitchen and food bank. Ken had been a volunteer with the foodbank, until it was clear there was a need for a clothing bank last summer. Since it was set up, Ken has now taken on this responsibility.

All these services have continued during the lockdowns.

Sadly there has been a huge rise in people needing all these ministries. Thankfully, those offering to help has also increased.

“We have a good group of committed volunteers at the clothing bank from a wide range of ages and backgrounds”.

This continuity of services has been vital to those most disadvantaged in the community with household goods, including blankets being provided as well as clothing when available.

Ken worked for over 40 years in office based roles in the civil service and local government before taking early retirement in 2015. Since then, Ken has been a volunteer at the Holloway Road shop of Cancer Research UK and remains an active retired member of his trade union, Unison.

Ken has been a member of the Church of England all of his life and is a member of the Parochial Church Council at St. John’s and a representative on the Hackney Deanery Synod.

St John’s Soup Kitchen and foodbank can be supported here: www.bankuet.co.uk/stjohns

Day 23: Steve’s Story

“Growing up, whenever I arrived at my grandmother’s flat she was always looking out of the window. As an adult I’ve realised it’s because she didn’t have anyone to talk to. I want to turn everything I do to fight against loneliness because I think it is soul destroying and it’s something I can have an impact on.”

Steve is the vicar at St Cuthbert’s Church, North Wembley. He considers blessing their community to be the focus of their ministry.

“Having lived a very self-centred life, when I became a Christian it was like putting on a new pair of glasses. I had a sense of tremendous compassion towards the suffering of others and I just can’t get that out of my head. That’s what motivates me.”

Seeing situations of isolation and loneliness in his parish compelled Steve to establish the Memory Café. Everyone is welcome – people with dementia and their carers; those living alone; and others from their very diverse local area who are looking for companionship. Some attendees have become volunteers in the café after experiencing bereavement.

“No one is turned away. It’s just like a burst of utter joy. We run quizzes, exercise classes and a choir.

People who could no longer speak could join in singing. People would come in with their loved ones and it gave them hope – and us hope. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Prior to the Covid pandemic, they had approximately 100 people attending the café every week, and Steve was heartbroken when they had to close. So Emily, his daughter, inspired him to set up Memory Café from home via Zoom. She provided technical support to dozens of households so that they could connect, and Steve does a weekly check-in by phone for any one not able to participate online. It’s been so successful that the long-term plan is to keep some of the ‘Memory Café at Home’ activities going even when the physical café can reopen.

Steve feels passionately that tackling isolation and loneliness in our communities is a key mission of the Church. And he sees the Memory Café as church in itself:

“I’ve seen people’s lives absolutely transformed by God. People from all different backgrounds (including Hindu and Sikh) come and are very open to speaking and hearing about Jesus. They love Jesus too.

I go into it thinking I’ve got as much to learn about faith from them as they have from me. They can teach me all kinds of things about service and love. It’s a re-engineering of the whole mission of the church.”

Day 24: Limmy’s Story

“No action is too small or too simple; every action can count.”

Limmy Khongsai lives in Southall and is involved with her parent’s creation care ministry at the Wolf Fields Nature reserve, which they created 6 years ago: as CMS pioneers and in partnership with A Rocha UK and local churches.

“I have always known this place; I don’t remember a time I wasn’t there. I usually help around the area, arts and orchard and allotment.”

Limmy doesn’t believe the work of conserving our environment should be just left to adults. During lockdown last year, when Limmy would normally have been at her primary school, she decided she wanted to do something to show other children they can make a difference to the planet.

“I wanted to encourage everyone to do good for the environment, such as litter picking. You can do stuff like grow your own food, buy what you really need, write a letter to your politician and campaign, invite wildlife to your garden, all these things can really help.”

Limmy made a 20 minute video at the nature reserve with the help of her dad full of ways that children can get involved. The video was put onto YouTube and on social media. It was shared by local churches, and soon seen by the local schools too, who have used it to take Limmy’s message to other children and young people.

“I believe in the bible God created the world and he did very well, and He entrusted us to take care of his world. But I don’t think we’re doing very well. Because we see all about this climate change, this plastic pollution, all these environmental crises.”

Limmy wants to continue to use her voice to encourage caring for God’s creation as much as she can.

“Every action counts- everyone can do their part. Adults can do this too”.

The video Limmy made with her dad is here.