Late in 2020, Churches Together in Cornwall began planning how we might mark the end of the Covid-19 pandemic when it came. Surely we’d be back to normal by spring 2021? It would be good, we thought, to encourage local gatherings, a time to share experiences and food, have a few laughs and a few tears; bringing together the local communities that had risen to the occasion, helping each other and breaking down that British reserve we normally display. We are fortunate in Cornwall to have the Eden Project and its Eden Communities programme, longstanding organisers of The Big Lunch held nationwide at the beginning of June. So we met with them (on Zoom of course) to explore how we might work together to encourage churches to set up Big Lunches. They were very enthusiastic, and we planned publicity, workshops and toolkits to help people get on board. But Covid was not done with us, the next lockdown hit home, and The Big Lunch 2021 went largely virtual. So we had to row back on our plans, and postpone our efforts to 2022, when The Big Lunch would become The Big Jubilee Lunch.
But 2022 did not begin auspiciously, and church communities were full of doubt and reluctance to plan partying. When restrictions were finally lifted in March, it led to the highest rate of Covid infections since the pandemic began. Although generally mild, this affected our planning, leading to the last-minute cancellation of a planned workshop and holding up production of our toolkit (Watch a talk by CTE’s Principal Officer for Mission and Evangelism on the theology of eating together).
Nevertheless, bit by bit, local groups began coming together, councils firmed up on plans, churches got involved and Churches Together groups started pulling things together. And the dots on The Big Lunch map began to proliferate. By the Jubilee weekend, they numbered about 90 – Cornwall took The Big Jubilee Lunch to its heart. “Covid hasn’t really gone away”, said someone interviewed on TV, “so this is the unspoken party to celebrate community” – just as we had originally hoped.
So did our efforts pay off? Did events, big or little, lunches, breakfasts or teas, take place because of church promptings, or would they have happened anyway? Impossible to say really – and that is perhaps the mark of success. Our message is ‘better together’, inspiring unity and sharing our gifts, working as a team. We have demonstrated that it works, and builds new friendships. Our challenge now is to keep that going; plans for 2023 coming up! Eden are very keen to get Churches Together groups involved across the country – can we rise to the challenge? Do get in touch with Churches Together in Cornwall if you’d like to explore further.