In 2012 Salem church in Tonteg near Cardiff was a traditional Welsh chapel. The building was used weekly for Sunday worship and the sisterhood would also meet once a month. Over the past decade God has completely transformed that, and food and hospitality have been at the heart of that transformation.
‘I had been the minister at Salem for about four years’, explained Rosa Hunt, who also lives in the community, ‘and we as church leaders were aware of the need for us to grow in prayer. So we asked God what he wanted us to do in the community; and as a result of a book we had been reading, we decided that we would ask God to give us an answer that would be completely impossible from a human point of view.’ God answered the prayer in multiple unexpected ways, including dreams, and in it all it was clear that he was presenting them with the idea of feeding their community.
Of course, there was no obvious way for a small church of some fifty members to do something like that! But shortly after the dreams happened Rosa phoned the ‘Fairshare’ scheme that were talking about operating in Tonteg. They told her that the church needed only two things to take part:
- A fridge in the building
- Someone with a level 2 food hygiene certificate.
The church had voted to get rid of its fridge some years earlier, and Rosa knew of nobody who had such a certificate in the church. But then one of the church members mentioned to her just days later that she had felt a prompting to do a level 2 food hygiene course just a month earlier. The church bought a new fridge and on top of that the local Tesco offered to buy them a freezer! God was at work, making the impossible happen.
Things started moving at pace, with the establishment of a food bank, a ‘superlunch’ programme, a community garden and a ‘Shalom Renew Wellbeing’ café. The momentum led to more initiatives as the word got out that the church was active and increasingly at the heart of the community. By the start of 2022 the County Council was ringing, telling Rosa that they had heard that the church was a welcoming one, and would they be willing to help welcome people who were coming out of prison? On top of that the NHS came to ask whether the church could run day centres for lonely people – all that was required was the ability to share a cup of tea and to listen. ‘And that’s an easy combination for any church!’ said Rosa with a twinkle in her eye. But as she recounts all this she is clear; it isn’t the activity that counts in the end. ‘Seeing God answer prayer is this big thing, and in the middle of all our busyness it is vital that the gospel remains absolutely central or we become nothing more than a social club.’
Moving forward with the Foundry
One of the other ‘impossible’ things that came out of the project was that the Birch family heard about the church and came to work with them. They had a vision for a Christian community house (Y Ffowndri) that would be a way of welcoming people, and introducing them to Jesus.
‘We didn’t know where we would find a church that would share this vision, but God led us out of the blue to Salem!’ Jon has since been called as a part-time minister to the church and the Baptist Union has helped support their vision to buy a house in the community, where the family now lives.
‘The pandemic meant that it wasn’t easy to welcome other people to live with us in the house until now, so there were a couple of spare rooms here and we were praying for this.’ But of course suddenly the urgent need for accommodation for Ukrainian families arose. A small family of three adults and a baby are now living with them. ‘Living by faith is always challenging! We don’t know if things will work out financially as welcome this Ukrainian family here – but then again, it was just so obvious that God was opening a door.’