Cwmcarn is in many ways a fairly typical valleys community, nestled in the Ebbw valley under scenic Twmbarlwm mountain. The village has a primary school, a range of local shops including a thriving butcher’s, a park and a population of around 500. Like most communities across the valleys, even in the age of smartphones and commutes it has very much retained its own distinct identity.
It also has only one church still open in the village, Zion Baptist – and God is at work there. The church has consisted of a small community of faithful, older members for many years who have maintained public Sunday worship and some midweek activities down the years. But they realised that if they were to continue on their current trajectory with no children and no members under the age of 50, the chapel would eventually close, leaving no local Christian witness in their community.
So they reached out to the Gwent Baptist Association to see if there was anything that could be done, particularly on the missional front. One of the larger churches in the Association, Moriah Risca, happened to have a young lady, Bekah Smethurst, doing an internship with them. She was a trained teacher and was also very interested in ministry with children and young people.
With support from Moriah, the Association and the Baptist Union, a post was created for Bekah to work at Zion as ‘Children’s, family and outreach worker’. As Bekah says, ‘I’m probably one of the only church children’s and families’ workers based at a church where there aren’t really any children or families!’ But this just goes to show how no situation is beyond hope.
Bekah picks up the tale; ‘One of the great things is just how happy the church are with me doing things by trial and error. They know we have to just try things out here – and if they don’t work, well, that’s ok.’ Covid has put up some obstacles, but in the 6 months since starting Bekah has slowly built up links with the village school. ‘I’ve visited them a few times already online and am booked in now for 4 assemblies with them this term.’ And even though the church didn’t have any young families, some of the members have grandchildren in the village.
‘During the Christmas season we ran some events for the children and families in the community. We started off with a QR trail running through the village which ended with a prize at the church where there were a few Christmas themed crafts. Then, the following week we ran a Messy Church session with a Carol Service just before Christmas. It was great over this time to have a few families joining us for these events.’ Bekah explains that in an ideal world they would have something on for children from the community at the church on a weekly basis, ‘but you have to start where you’re at’. Zion has a long history behind it – but it looks like there may yet be something new to come.