Rev Sheelagh Aston shares her church’s story, which features on BBC One’s DIY SOS on Wednesday 13 November at 8pm…
And he answered them ‘Whoever Has two coats is to share with him who has none.’ Luke 3: 11.
A simple request we find so hard to do. In Jesus’ day, giving something as simple as coat would be madness. Clothes were expensive – you had few possessions and what you had you kept. Giving a spare coat would have been a great sacrifice.
We live in a world where we amass possessions and money. Who doesn’t have a loft, garage or shed housing forgotten items from past times or things we keep ‘just in case?’
What if we did give what we had to others?
Many churches do make their premises available for hire and set up projects to address needs in their community. The text could be seen to be asking us, what if you had a building that could benefit others in a significant way if you gave it away? Sadly when church owned buildings are sold off ownership is lost and the opportunity to work in partnership with others too. Surely there is a better way forward.
It was this thinking that set my own PCC at St Silas Church, Blackburn, to ponder this verse from Luke. We had a lovely Victorian Parish Hall; a former school built in 1834 and refurbished in the 1970s for community use. The changing demographics of the parish residency and the retraction of community organisations had taken its toll. Equally we were aware, through our relationship with local homelessness project, Nightsafe, of the growing homelessness amongst 16-25 years old in the area. We knew they wanted to develop a ‘next step’ in their housing provision for 16-18-year-olds by providing supportive independent accommodation located within the community.
The decision to work in partnership with Nightsafe to convert the Hall into accommodation and to support the young residents in their new home brought alive the true meaning of the text from Luke for the PCC and our congregation. The project could have taken years. Instead, the conversion was completed over two weeks in September this year, thanks to BBC Children in Need & DIY SOS choosing it as their Big Build Project. And of course the hundreds of volunteers who gave their time to come and do the work.
For two weeks our church became a building site, with the local Roman Catholic church opposite home to the catering crew. Other churches sent volunteers to man the tent and skilled volunteers to help plaster, decorate and landscape. The Mosque next door to the church housed building materials in their car park and cooked curry one night for everyone working into the small hours. Where a common need is perceived, barriers are removed and a glimpse of heaven on earth is revealed.
Today six young people have a home which has been lovingly prepared for them by the community they now live in. We may have lost our Parish Hall, but we have gained new friends, neighbours and most of all the opportunity to share God’s love with others through sacrificial giving.
Rev Sheelagh Aston is Priest in Charge of St Silas Church, Blackburn (Diocese of Blackburn) since Dec 2016. She was PIC of Oxclose Church, Washington LEP/Durham Diocese Ecumenical Adviser between 2010-16.
The DIY SOS Children in Need Big Build programme will be shown on Wednesday 13 November at 8pm BBC One.
You can also hear Nightsafe staff talking about the project on the BBC website.
Photo – Volunteers with Nick Knowles from DIY SOS, outside St Silas Church on Reveal Day in Sept 2019.
Copyright: BBC. Used with permission.