Church and Community : a village story from Osmotherley

The Challenge: The church should be at the heart of the community

The Context: The church building of St Peter's in Osmotherley sits in the centre of the village but interestingly cannot be easily seen. The local school and pre school are located next to St Peter's. Neither is a church school. The local Methodist Church is of historical significance and located away from the centre of the village up a narrow alley. Services are held infrequently and the remaining members often attend St Peter's There is a small but strong Roman Catholic community in the village —  not all members of the Catholic  congregation live in the village. There is also a Quaker Meeting House with a very small local membership. 

Until a few years ago most people living in the village could probably tell you where St Peter's  was located but very few had actually been inside it. Several younger people actively expressed the view that they did not want village events to take place in the church. The congregation at St Peter's  was small and almost exclusively drawn from the older generation. 

The Vision: two of the members of St Peter's had the idea to set up a  monthly Community Coffee Morning in the church building. They invited two parents whose children attended the local school to join a small committee along with one of the older members of the St Peter's Congregation who enjoyed baking. The small committee became The Osmotherley Community Group and  agreed the following principles:

The events would be fully inclusive — there  would be no charges for the coffee and cake 
Most of the donations received would be given to local groups and organisations or charities
The local school and pre school would be invited to attend and on occasion to make short presentations about their learning
Other church groups in the village would be kept fully informed of the activities and where possible invited to contribute
All cakes and bakes would  be donated and invitations to contribute would be to the whole community
There would be publicity via articles in the local parish magazine. school newsletter and monthly village news sheet along with monthly posters and door to door leaflets
Personal invitations would be sent to people known to be living alone, recently moved to the village, recently bereaved. families with young children and older people
there would be a regular review and evaluation of the events

The Outcome: The Coffee Mornings regularly attract 60 - 90 people of all ages. In October 2016 we begin our 4th season;  Winter Soup lunches offered in conjunction with the Catholic community regularly attract 50 - 70 people and will start their 3rd season in November 2016; A Community Cook book edited by a mum from the local pre school sold out in two weeks for Christmas 2015 and included recipes from local people; businesses and organisations.  A grant of almost £5000 was received for tables, chairs and other equipment to help to develop the project. In October 2015 The Osmotherley Community Group won the award for Best Community Group in North Yorkshire. Our volunteer base is now around 40 and includes people of all ages who bake, make soup  serve, give out publicity, provide music for events. The local Health service and various voluntary organisations come to the events to share information. In November 2016 the  Community Group will work with The Village Hall and St Peter's to organise an Angel Festival which will involve the whole community.  Special services at St Peter's for example, Harvest, Mothering Sunday, Christmas, Remembrance Sunday now have a Community emphasis. Members of the community now feel at home in the church — requests are received to hold events in the church e.g. a 6 week craft course — a pre school Christmas celebration. Angels for the forthcoming Angel Festival will be provided by a range of community groups, businesses and individuals. As a result of the expanding community activity St Peter;s PCC has drawn up plans for church re modelling to include a toilet and enhanced kitchen and meeting facilities. The church congregation is growing

What have we learned?: If the church is to be at the heart of the community, local churches must first take action to engage with the community. This engagement is best achieved in partnership with others — other churches in the locality and other key organisations and groups. Activity must be subject to regular review. Decisions for development must be taken in consultation. The church  does not have a right to be at the heart of the community by virtue of its historical place in it . It must earn  the community's respect in order to be restored to its heart.