How a meal turned into a new church community

12 August 2021

Dave Shaw from the Bridgeway Hall in Nottingham on the ministry of welcome to all and how this pioneering team have adapted during the pandemic to the needs of their community.


Dave Shaw and Pat Thomas

As a pioneer I have been involved in developing local ministry around the subject of food for several years. This began with the foodbank and later the community café, where we started to prepare some basic meals for those who arrived in desperate hunger. Latterly I have curated The Gathering and Sunday Supper, a community meal preceded by an informal act of worship, which has been shaped by the (formerly) unchurched individuals who gather before the meal.

Working amongst the chaotic lifestyles of those who are materially poor can be incredibly challenging, but also joyous! During the pandemic we had to close our building to social eating gatherings, so Sunday Supper has become Sunday Takeaway, but at this point I will let Pat Thomas, our secretary, and the one who had the vision for Sunday Supper take up the story: 

 "A few Christians were meeting every Sunday evening at my house for a shared meal, chat, worship, and prayers. I would open the door and welcome whoever arrived, and somehow, we always had enough food, and folk would stay to pray and sing. We used the Youth Alpha materials which prompted good discussion and we prayed for our friends and neighbours. A summer barbeque attracted fourteen people, who we had prayed for over the years. We had a great time chatting and listening to one of our regulars who played her guitar and sang both Christian and folk songs."

However, in our neighbourhood, a house receiving numerous visitors usually indicates the presence of drug dealers, and ‘entertaining’, around a meal table, is uncommon, due to houses being relatively small. Moving the meal to the church took it onto neutral ‘turf’ and allowed us to invite folk we had developed relationships with, via the foodbank. Pat again takes up the story:

"Not knowing who would come nor how many, on that first Sunday evening we opened the church doors, and eighteen people came in to feast on the hot food prepared. Numbers grew to between 40 and 50 people, as word spread, many were living with food insecurity, and many appreciated the opportunity to be part of a new community. From the beginning we had decided that this was church, and we would say grace and share a Jesus story in between courses (soup, main course and pudding!). Those at the meal were always respectful of this and peer pressure often prevailed regarding new visitors who were noisy.

"Before Christmas 2018 one of the guests asked if we could sing carols, and of course we agreed. A full Christmas meal was served and we sang carols. We assumed after Christmas that this Christian input would come to an end, but they asked for it to continue. So began The Gathering half an hour before the meal was served. Tea and coffee is available on arrival in the church auditorium and a short interactive service held. Attendees are often invited to light candles or write prayers on post-it notes and fix them to the frontal cross. Most of the guests keenly engage with these rituals. We eat and chat together over the food, getting to know folk by name and listen to their stories."


Sunday Supper became Sunday Takeaway during Covid-19

Sadly, the pandemic has meant we have had to close the doors temporarily. However, our understanding of the food insecurity situation left the volunteers keen to continue cooking and we have enhanced the food served from the front door. However, it has been challenging to keep up with the demands of ministry and comforting friends who have lost relatives to Covid-19 while queuing for food, in a socially distanced way is not easy. The Bible promises shared on the back of small paper doves at Pentecost were much appreciated but praying with folk in the street is challenging. We are keen to reopen the church auditorium as a quiet space as soon as possible, but completing risk assessments, determining safe ways of working (for chaotic lifestyles) and the questions over the future of our building make this challenging. However, I will leave the final word to Pat:

"Praise God for the constant provision of food and volunteers to prepare and serve this. We feel privileged that God has trusted us to serve needy people, some of whom have become friends. It is exciting and tiring, but we have learnt so much. We continue to pray as God prompts us. We trust that He will lead us in the next chapter, whatever that is.  Thank you, Father."

If you feel called to a new way of being church in your community you can find out more about our Pioneering Pathways here.