Sadly, the needs in our society have grown to such an extent that warm spaces have become a necessity for many across the country, with spaces popping up in libraries, community centres and even museums. But a large proportion of these spaces are run by churches, and many of our Baptist churches have felt compelled to see how they can use their facilities to contribute to meeting this real need – often combining the need for basic warmth with food and companionship.
‘Like many churches, we have been challenged to see how we can help people in our community during this winter,’ said Phil Hibbert, minister of Bethel Baptist Church in Llantwit Major, Glamorgan. Since July the church has spoken with organisations and churches in the town about how it could co-ordinate provision in a way that offers spaces throughout the week but allows each to have its own unique flavour. The result is a joint campaign with consistent branding. In this way Bethel knows there are at least five warm spaces available across the week it can direct people to.
The church itself has set up what it calls “Warm Wednesdays”, which runs directly after school pick up times and also when the foodbank (which is hosted at Bethel) finishes. ‘The warm space is just that,’ explains Phil. ‘A relaxed, warm environment.’ Running from 3:15pm – 5pm there are hot drinks, snacks, toys and an area for homework to be done. Phil says they have tried to keep it as open as possible in terms of what we offer ‘because we want those who attend to tell us what they need, rather than us assuming.’
Some churches have decided to take the opportunity to focus their offering on meals together, such as Pentref Baptist in the mid-Wales village of Newbridge-on-Wye. They want to offer “a warm welcoming space to anyone who would enjoy a bit of company over a meal every month – no chapel connection required. Some of us who often eat alone simply value a chat now and again.” Last time, around 25 people gathered in the chapel hall and “the buzz in the room was lovely as the slow cookers gradually emptied and a few bites of pudding were found too.”
Similarly in Cardigan, Mount Zion Baptist have opened their space every Tuesday from 3:30 till 9pm, with a two-course meal forming the centrepoint of this time – whether cawl and crumble or jacket potato with brownie for afters. And in Caernarfon, Caersalem Baptist now run a ‘Cawl a Chwmni’ / ‘Cawl and company’ session over an extended lunchtime every Thursday. As Rhys Llwyd, pastor, explains ‘if we as a church community are going to spend money on running a building, then we do need to use it to serve. What does it mean to show Christian love in this season if not doing something like this?’
In several of these contexts, one common theme emerges which is that the chance for people to have the company of others is just as important a factor as the warmth itself. At Mount Zion on a chilly Tuesday evening there is a hubbub as food is prepared and dished up to a group of 20 or so. Eirian, one of the many volunteers behind the initiative, explains what a good way this has been to get to know people. ‘We expect to carry this on well into the new year. It’s about loving our neighbour isn’t it – just as Jesus commands’.