All across Plymouth this summer, churches are coming together to offer free meals to children and families in their community.
Sixteen churches have united to host the Feast of Fun, sharing their resources, volunteers and buildings to offer food and fun activities to families. Almost every day throughout the summer holidays an event is being held in a church across the city, including Church of England, Baptist, Methodist, URC and Salvation Army churches.
Children going hungry over the school holidays has recently hit the headlines, with 4.6m children and 8.3m working-age adults in the UK living in poverty according to the Social Metrics Commission.
Transforming Plymouth Together was established three years ago as a direct church response to the 2014 Plymouth Fairness Commission Report. This report spelt out the stark inequalities between various parts of the city – with those living in one of Plymouth’s most deprived areas expected to live 12.8 years less than someone from one of the least deprived wards.
Working together with churches, other faith groups, the voluntary sector, statutory bodies and businesses, Transforming Plymouth Together addresses issues related to poverty and inequality in Plymouth through informal community work such as the Feast of Fun, as well as more formal community development initiatives. Like 21 similar initiatives across the country, they are a joint venture between Church Urban Fund and the local Church of England diocese.
The Feast of Fun initiative started in Plymouth in 2017 as ‘Hope 4 Summer’, with churches in St Budeaux ward offering games, craft activities and free meals for families. They also gave the opportunity for families to learn about health eating, making smoothies, pizzas and salads together.
Some 550 children and families took part 2017, and in 2018 more churches got involved, providing over 2,000 meals to the community alongside fun activities. This year almost 40 events are taking place, from breakfasts to lunches to bus outreaches, with the aim of providing 3,000 meals over the summer.
Churches Together in Devonport are hosting all their events this year in the Salvation Army building, with volunteers from other local churches leading the activities and catering. St Pancras church is offering a free hearty breakfast every Thursday morning in August, alongside a bouncy castle, crafts, board games, table football and air hockey. And the churches in St Budeaux provide volunteers to run each of their lunches, pooling their resources to buy craft materials for all their events.
“Feast of Fun is all about allowing the church to reach people and really connect. It’s had a great impact on morale and a sense of community, and also gives an opportunity for churches to let local families know about other activities on offer” shares Hannah Fleming-Hill, Project Support Development Worker at Transforming Plymouth Together.
“Just last week a boy came up to one of our church leaders, saying ‘You’re a legend!’ When he was asked what made him say this, he replied: ‘because of the food and the biscuits and the breakfast, and then we can play.’ It’s amazing to see the impact when the church simply shows that we care.
“It’s wonderful to see churches sharing their resources and each offering what they can to bless their local communities. It’s not about telling local churches what they should do, but allowing the communities to take ownership, and encouraging churches to work together to meet the needs of those around them.
“No church can do everything, so we need to work together to actually make a difference. We are the body of Christ – and just as the arm and the leg do different things, so various churches in a town or city will each have a different strength. It’s about each doing what we can do, working together, and growing from there.”
We spoke to Chris Clewer, chair of Churches Together in Plymouth, about unity in the city. “Like Street Pastors and Food Banks, the Feast of Fun is a great initiative which shows that churches really do care for their communities. Our unity makes us more visible and more connected with the community.”“In Plymouth we have 40 different churches represented in our Street Pastors, making us one of the biggest in the country. The police and council have recognised the church as actively loving the whole person, building bridges into the community.
“Churches Together in Plymouth has been working over many years to bring Plymouth churches together in a strategic way that best meets the needs of the city. We network all 120 churches across the city and produce a booklet called Caring Plymouth, a directory of 75 local Christian ministries. We also bring churches and ministries together for monthly prayer gatherings, quarterly leaders’ lunches, and an annual day conference called City Transformation, where national speakers come to envision us.
“The only way churches can meet the needs of the city is by working together” adds Chris. “After all, God never entrusts a revival or move of the Spirit to just one particular church or denomination.
“Unity is God’s design and what He blesses, and it also allows us to speak as one when we engage with the infrastructure of our city, from the council to the police, to health and education. It’s the only way to serve the city effectively.”
Photo credit: Hannah Fleming-Hill