Categories
Community engagement Dementia

Rallying round the rota – enabling those with dementia to remain on active service

Church rotas may not sound like a matter of the spiritual realm, but surely blessed are the rota co-ordinators.  Putting a church rota together is no mean feat, requiring patience, technical skills, and often great diplomacy. Add ‘exceptions’ and ‘special considerations’ to the mix and one would be forgiven for thinking that were a bridge too far. Early in his first letter to the Corinthians, at verse 12, Paul identifies administration as a gift of the spirit. Sure, it’s not first in the list, but it certainly gets a specific mention.

For example, what happens if a person who has been part of a rota then becomes less able to serve in that role? Living with dementia – an acquired disability – is one such example, although there’s a limitless number of other reasons that might mean a member of the church family is less able to serve than in the past. This change in personal circumstance or compromised ability to serve prompts the question: what now? Should a person remain on that rota, or come off? Here are some ideas to get you started, if this is an activity you would like to consider at your church or setting. To start with, we need to ask a few more questions:

Time for a rota review?

First, does the person want to continue serving their church family in this way? Rather than singling out one individual, it’s good to have an occasional rota review for everyone, to give people the opportunity to serve in different areas of church life.

Second, could changes be made to support that person in their service? If someone would like to continue, the next step is to identify possible barriers that might be removed. For example, perhaps a person is no longer able to drive, but they would like to continue to read at church. Or perhaps the lectern is poorly lit, or the text in the Bible is too small. Once identified, each of these barriers can be addressed.

Third, beyond the logistics and practicalities of serving, it’s important to ask: what do we understand the purpose of participation to be? Is it to be slick, for people to see how efficient and well run our churches are? Or is it that as church we are family, all trying our best, all helping one another?

Time for a rota buddy scheme?

What else might be helpful? In some cases, an ‘alongsider’ or ‘rota buddy’ can support a person in their role, so the role can be completed together. This could work well in so many aspects of church life, including flower arranging, serving coffee, washing up, or being part of the Welcome Team.

Initially, changes can be thought of as awkward or a bit tricky; but in time can result in the whole church family rallying round to look out for a particular member of the church family as their dementia develops. This ensures everyone can keep being a part of, and contributing to church family life. Alongside one another, each of us can be helped to help. We may forget, but we are not forgotten. Still known and loved by God, still on the rota.

Don’t miss Livability’s new dementia resource, Journeying Together, which is due out in time for Dementia Action Week happening this year from 20-26 May.

Categories
Prayer diary

Prayer Diary: May – August 2019

Spring is here and we hope you have had a wonderful Easter…

 
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Each year, the journey of Easter is a celebration of God’s amazing grace and the transformational hope it brings.

At Livability – along with our church partners and faithful prayer supporters – we are determined to live out this hope in all that we do.

Disabled people still face barriers that impact their lives and opportunities. Together and
with them, we are committed to working for a fairer society.

This edition of the Prayer Diary is jam-packed with hopeful news and stories:

  • Find out about Ability Sunday and how your church can
    get involved to support the full participation of disabled people in your community.
  • Learn about national co-production week and why working ‘together and with’ people is such a vital partof how Livability provides enabling care services.
  • Get inspired by some amazing people from the Livability community, including artists, sports heroes and fundraisers. There really is so much to celebrate.

Thank you for praying.

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Categories
News

Marathon stars of 2019

An amazing 64 #teamLivability runners pounded the streets of London at one of the most iconic running routes in the world, the Virgin Money London Marathon 2019.

What you see on the day is the result of days, weeks and months of gruelling training and the personal stories that drive so many of runners to support Livability. A huge congratulations to each of our runners and the families and friends that supported them to get over the finish line this year.

Runners met near to the start point in Greenwich Park early Sunday morning. Nerves met excitement for a photo opportunity before the runners set off.

The marathon route

All of our runners completed the marathon, with Jonathon Keller miles ahead of the pack as our fastest running with a time of 2:30:07.

Our cheer point at mile 16 saw 40 supporters make a lot of noise in admiration of every member of #teamlivability who passed by. Jamie Loudoun’s family was on hand to cheer him on with his daughter making a special sign to help her Dad make those final 10 miles.

“A huge thank you to the Livability supporters who were there on the 16-mile marker. They went crazy when I ran past. That was the moment which gave me so much energy to complete the race! I don’t think I would be able to do it if it wasn’t for them!” Jolel

Our amazing #teamlivability runners

A stroke, following a race in 2016, left David Swales with a brain injury and site loss. He completed his first ever marathon this year with a guide runner and his son Ben. David decided to run for Livability following the support he received from Livability Icanho, a Brain Rehabilitation Centre in Suffolk – David continues to inspire us all with his determination and energy:

“It was a day that I will not forget. So many great memories. I couldn’t be more proud of my fellow Livability runners. I loved the cheer point as it really helped me after a difficult period of the race and it was great to go to the event afterwards”. David

The after party

Runners were congratulated at the post race party runners were given much needed massages, refuelled and reunited with their personal cheer teams, showing off those medals.

Frank got in contact from Gatwick before flying home:

“A short message before leaving the UK to thank you very much for making yesterday happen for me and all the other Livability runners! Thanks also for the support at mile 16, it was the hardest part of the race and seeing you and the others, the smiles and clapping of hands did really help. I did enjoy the whole race except for a difficulty to breathe in the last 500 meters after final acceleration … but it was a short and rapidly recovered pain.”

How you can help

It’s not too late to support this year’s marathon runners, who have together raised an outstanding £105,000 excluding Gift Aid. Donate here.

If you are inspired by #teamlivability and feel like 2020 is the year you run a marathon for the first or fifth time – the ballot is now open. You’ll find all the details here: www.livability.org.uk/marathon

Read Jamie’s 2019 Marathon story

Categories
Disability care News Real life stories

Sports for all – getting active at the pool and on the pitch

With physical activity known to be vital for physical and mental health and wellbeing, disabled people supported by Livability are not content with sitting still.

With the London Marathon coming up fast, we’ll see people of all ages and abilities crossing the finishing line this weekend. Not everyone can run a marathon, and not all of us will – but when it comes to disability the people we support do not see this as a barrier to being sporty.

But it can be harder for disabled people to find and access sporting opportunities – reflected in the statistics, which show that disabled people are twice as likely to be physically inactive than non-disabled people*. That’s where Livability can work together and with the people we support to get out and get active.

Peter’s story

Take Peter, who is an ardent Arsenal fan. Peter’s cerebral palsy means his movement is largely limited to his upper body but he wanted to do more than just watch football. With Richard, activities coordinator at Livability Brookside, where Peter lives, Peter found a local wheelchair football club for disabled people. It’s part of a national league ‘and highly competitive’, says Richard.

Peter began training at the club, which he says is ‘very friendly’. He uses a specially designed, very fast wheelchair, fitted with a large bumper at the front and controls the wheelchair to dribble the ball. Peter, who has very limited verbal communication, demonstrates how he swings the chair at an angle and turns sharply to hit the ball with considerable force, when he wants to shoot.

Being part of the club is important to Peter and he feels his motor skills have improved with the demands of controlling and manoeuvring a very fast chair. ‘Sometimes sustaining things can be hard but Pete’s really committed to this and is very much part of things there,’ says Richard.

Boccia

Livability’s experience with sport and disability means staff can sometimes introduce the people we support to something completely new.  Boccia is a Paralympic sport derived from bowling and something that Livability’s Dorset school, Victoria Education Centre. has excelled in, playing at national level.

Joining in

When James came to live at Livability Netteswell Rectory in Essex, he was keen to try a range of activities. ‘I’d always liked bowling but my disability means I can’t really play, so I just watched,’ he explains. ‘Then I heard about boccia from a member of staff here – I’d never heard of it before.’ With support from staff member Michael, James tried out a local club. ‘I’ve been going for a year now,’ he says. ‘It takes a bit of time to learn but I did my first tournament recently. I was quite scared! But it was good and I was fairly pleased with how I played.’

Lynn’s return to the pool

Back at Livability Brookside, Peter’s housemate Lynn has recently been supported to return to swimming, something she’s loved all her life. The National Orthopaedic Hospital’s swimming pool is conveniently close to Livability Brookside.

Livability Brookside provided the opportunity from their own budget, then in 2019 Livability made a strong case for local authority funding which was approved. It was clear that this activity would improve Lynn’s health and wellbeing, and help her weight management programme. ‘We needed to send two staff to support Lynn but we knew it was worth it.’ says Brookside deputy manager Majlinda.

Lynn beams as she talks about her swim sessions: ‘The hoist gets me into the pool and as soon as I’m in the water, I’m on my back and I’m off! Up and down the pool for a whole hour!’ Lynn’s sister Carol adds that ‘our whole family is absolutely thrilled that Lynn has been able to return to swimming. There have been lots of hurdles to cross to achieve this goal. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!’

Now the local authority has agreed to fund Lynn’s swimming, making this sustainable. ‘Yes, that was a bit of a victory for us!’ says Richard, activities coordinator, who is passionate about giving every opportunity to the people he supports. ‘Sitting around getting bored is just not acceptable at Livability!’ adds deputy manager Majlinda.

*http://www.activityalliance.org.uk/how-we-help/fact-and-statistics

 

 

Categories
News

Jamie’s first ever Marathon

With only one more weekend to go until one of London’s most iconic sporting events, The Virgin Money London Marathon – we hear from one of our amazing marathon runners. Jamie tells us why he got involved and shares his dedicated training regime. We wish Jamie and all the #teamlivability runners all the best in this final run up to the big day.

So – only a few days to go! What made you decide to take on the London Marathon?

The reason for doing this world-renowned event and supporting Livability is because my mum is only 69 and has suffered two major strokes in the past five years. This has left her bedridden and barely able to put a sentence together. She would be so proud of me doing this. The job her nursing home does is fantastic, under all sorts of pressure, so this resonates so much with what Livability does.

It’s great that you’re using this experience to do something positive …

Yes and my personal experience is that I was born with a form of plegia down my right side, so muscles didn’t develop as well, but I don’t see it as a disability. At times I struggle with dexterity in my right hand, amongst other things but have never let it get to me over the years.

We’re really grateful for your support. How did you hear about Livability’s work?

Through a family member, Mandy Nixon, who is deputy manager at Livability Treetops residential home in Essex. Mandy explained what Livability is all about and it felt right to support them.

When did you start training?

Boxing Day! It has been really good on the whole, with some challenging moments, but you dig deep to get through it. I’m very excited, anxious and nervous all rolled into one, but I’m as ready as I will ever be.

What do you do when you’re not running marathons?

I’m an insurance advisor and live with my partner Charlotte and daughter Grace in Norwich.

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Categories
News

On track – or not? A journey testing accessibilty on the tube

For disabled people, transport can put huge barriers in the way of something as ordinary as a day out. Philip, who is supported by Livability, set out on a journey of discovery.

Finding your way around London can be complicated, made more so if you have accessibility needs –  only 25% of Underground stations are deemed accessible*. Philip, a wheelchair user who lives at Livability Brookside House, a residential home in Edgware, north London, decided to do some research on how easy a trip across the capital would be. We hear about Philip’s experiences:

‘I thought I’d take a good look at accessibility and London Transport,’ says Philip. ‘As chair of our residents’ group, I wanted to find ways that would help the people I live with to be able to travel more.’

Testing transport accessibility across London

Philip travelled with staff member Richard to the ExCel centre in London’s Docklands, venue for an accessible transport exhibition. A journey of 20 miles or so, this route isn’t the simplest. ‘It was complicated – we got a taxi to Edgware station, which now has a lift, I’m glad to say,’ Philip says. ‘Then we used three different Underground lines to get to the ExCel.’

Philip experienced the good and the bad on what he calls his ‘guinea pig run’. ‘What was helpful is the facility to book your journey with Transport for London up to 24 hours ahead. This means you will be met by an assistant at every station. I found this really useful.’

Not so great were access problems with some Underground and rail services, where the gap between platform and transport can seem daunting, even if equipment is on hand to help. ‘In the same way that bus ramps used to be really steep, and now the bus drops down to pavement level, we need to see this for trains,’ says Philip.

Having arrived at the ExCel, Philip was impressed with some of the solutions he saw at the transport show, including a new taxi designed with plenty of room for electric wheelchairs.

‘This travel research wasn’t just for me but for the people here,’ he explains. ‘Sometimes people can feel apprehensive about giving it a go. I’ve been worried about it too. You need to know what’s available and where help is if you need it. I’ve felt nervous about finding my way to and around London stations, especially in rush hour.’

Philip laughs when he remembers feeling nervous on a train for a different reason: ‘I’d been to a West Ham v Blackpool match and was surrounded by Blackpool supporters. You can bet I hid my West Ham shirt!’

Philip’s investigative journey has given housemate Peter confidence to start thinking about making a similar trip. ‘Yes, Peter’s got different mobility challenges to me, but he wants to be able to do a trip like that by himself. That’s something I like to see, when we want to keep learning.’

Find out more

* https://www.theramppeople.co.uk/

Categories
Community engagement

Lessons from a window sill in Eden (Street)

Maggie Harding’s neighbours decorate their external window sill with ornaments, trusting those who pass by not to take them. Inspired and challenged by this simple act of faith, which results in everyone feeling better about themselves and their community, she asks – do you have the faith to do something similar in your street?

I love my street! Sadly we’ll be moving in the next six months or so, but as I reflect on what I will miss, the street and the lessons I’ve learned about neighbourliness are near the top of the list.

We live in the North West and the street is named after the Eden River which flows nearby. It’s very appropriate!  According to my dictionary, Eden means essentially great delight or contentment and it’s no accident that Adam and Eve’s earthly paradise is described as a garden – a well-watered, fruitful place with plants and flowers.

So what’s so special about it? It’s a fairly busy road in a mixed area of terraced housing most of which opens straight onto the pavement – there are no front gardens here.  The houses are a mixture of rented and owner occupied and there’s a university campus in the vicinity so there are lots of students coming and going. Although it’s not known as a difficult area there’s been a fair amount of crime in the street: it’s sadly not uncommon for us to see police in the area and a neighbourhood watch group has recently been formed.

Home sweet home

But the street is a delight to walk down. Who needs front gardens? Nearly every house uses their doorstep or window sill (or both!) to lift our spirits – there are window boxes; plant pots on doorsteps; hanging baskets and heart-shaped wreaths.

It’s not just window boxes and plant pots.  As well as taking pride in their homes and displaying their gardening skills, my neighbours are quietly demonstrating their faith in all who pass by. In an act of trust that defies the possibility of crime and theft, the external window sill of one house in particular – right on the pavement – is adorned with ornaments like an indoor mantlepiece. On either side of a beautifully maintained planter – there is a candle in a pretty pot which says ‘Home sweet home’ and a star-shaped soapstone with ‘Tell a beautiful story’ on it.  Maybe the problem is I’ve lived in London and it made me distrustful – we did lose plants from outside our house – but we’ve had visitors from all over the country comment on it too. These decorative items would be so easy to pick up and pop in a pocket.  But we have lived here for nearly four years and they are still there.

Trust matters

As well as admiring their faith, I am struck every time I pass these houses by how it makes me feel. As well as just enjoying seeing beautiful things, and feeling pride in the street and the area, it’s made me think how good it feels to be trusted.  I know that there are people living in a poorly maintained block of rented houses on our street who are viewed with suspicion and mistrust as soon as they leave the house (I know this because I’ve heard the way some of my neighbours talk about them) so this is a powerful act – for everyone.

Studies show a correlation between low self-esteem, loneliness, and social connectedness in relation to trust (McWhirter, 1997 for one). For those of my neighbours who are struggling with life and may be losing their self-respect, or for anyone who had had a bad experience of crime can such a small thing really make a difference?  It may seem amazing, but I believe it’s true – recognising an act of faith, and seeing it rewarded can make people feel better about themselves and those around them.

Connected communities

In these days of division and fear, of labels and ‘othering’, this simple act packs a powerful punch. I believe God calls us to choose to believe the best about people and give them the benefit of the doubt. This visual and visible act, quietly witnesses to the truth and value of that. What an easy but powerful way to demonstrate our faith in our neighbours and humanity as a whole. Imagine what it would communicate to the world if our homes lead the way in this?

Living on this street has inspired me to up my game in terms of plants and baskets, and the lesson of trust will stay with me. But I’m sorry to say our window sill is currently bare. So the question is, in the future, wherever I am, do I have sufficient faith to go and do likewise? Do you?

Maggie Harding works with the Livability Community Engagement team and edits the Community Engagement eNews.

She lives in the North of England with her husband Carl, who is an Anglican curate, and two black cats.

 

 

 

Categories
Community engagement

Creating Community… a taster of the new ‘Together for Good’ resource

The crucial value of community

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26)

We humans are social beings – it’s one of our most fundamental characteristics. Four hundred years ago, John Donne wrote those famous words, “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of a continent, a part of the main”, and they are just as relevant today.

The Bible too has much to say about corporate relationships, or community. From the beginning, “God said, ‘It is not satisfactory for man to be alone; I will make him a helper complementary to him’” (Genesis 2:18). Indeed, God himself is a community of persons, the Trinity, who created humans in his own image (“Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness”, Genesis 1:26). Jesus gathered a group of people together, his twelve disciples, with others, to be the prototype of his new community. So we are on very solid ground when our focus is not simply on an individual Christian’s relationship with God, but also on the shared, communal dimension of our life together – the church.

Community – part of our DNA?

Human beings function best in groups – they were never designed to live alone. This propensity to band together and cooperate is instinctive, hard-wired into our DNA. In Together for Good, a follow up resource to Lifting the Lid, we’ve seen how the strength or weakness of our relationships, both individually and corporately, has a huge impact on our physical, mental and general health. But as a society we are not doing well with community relationships. Loneliness is becoming a huge problem.

One study showed that two-thirds of Britons say they have no one to speak to about mental health or relationships. Five million people say that the television is their main form of company. Mother Teresa expressed the matter succinctly: “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. There’s a hunger for love.”

In their study of human society, sociologists call the ties that bind people together in communities, social capital. If a neighbourhood has high social capital there is much connection, trust and cohesion. Two types of social capital are described. The first is all about bonding – tightly-knit groups who look, think and act like each other (family, friends, colleagues and ethnic groups function in this way). However, generally speaking, there is less interest and welcome for people who are different. The second type of social capital is termed bridging. Here, people from one group reach out to another group that is very different. This is much more challenging, but it provides the opportunity to break down age-old barriers and bring new and fresh life to groups that hitherto had no interest in each other.

Questions:
• What causes a community to turn in on itself, to focus only on bonding, with no interest in bridging to other, different groups?
• Conversely, what might help such a community to turn its attention outwards?
• What groups exist in your locality that have little or no contact with your church? How might you as a church begin to make contact with them?

Bringing it together

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Recently, the Christians in Practice project looked into the link between Christians’ engagement with their local communities and its impact on their own faith. The results were very revealing:

• 82% said that helping others in their community had helped them grow as a Christian
• 83% reported that it had increased their love for other people
• 77% affirmed that it had increased their love for God
• 72% agreed that it had helped them to understand their faith better

The passage in 1 Corinthians 12 shows how a group of people can develop bonding social capital, through healthy, generous, committed relationships. The Christians in Practice project demonstrates how outward-looking groups can extend bridging social capital, to the benefit of both givers and recipients.

Yet many churches struggle with both internal and external relationships. With busy and sometimes stressful lives and many conflicting commitments, many church members feel unable to engage with others in their church – let alone alone people in their neighbourhoods. The quality of our church community suffers and we are left wondering what to do.

One town shows the way: compassionate Frome

How did one Somerset town bring about a 17% fall in hospital admissions, whilst the whole county at that time saw a 29% rise? Simply put, it was because a local GP decided to take action on the dual challenge of over-medicalisation and increasing loneliness of her patients. How did she do it? By promoting and developing relational connections and community locally. She began to employ “health connectors” within the NHS to help people plan their care, but also recruited “community connectors” – volunteers who helped them find support. The result was that local people, rather than possessing symptoms of disease, discovered capacity to address their own problems.

Your church community

Question:
How might this example help you as a church community engage more effectively with your locality?

• Looking again at our passage (1 Corinthians 12), where would you see your church’s strengths?
• Research shows that community connection and support is one of the church’s strongest cards. So how might your church strengthen its own community life?
• Could you extend this beyond the walls of the church, to people who would never normally darken the door of their local church (ie grow bridging social capital)?

Together for Good is a new, free resource designed to provide churches with Bible Studies and group exercises exploring the themes of happiness, meaning and wellbeing.

Written and produced with wellbeing expert Dr Andy Parnham and Corin Pilling, Deputy Director of Public Engagement, the hope is that it will support churches to grow wellbeing as a basis for good mental health in their community.

The resource can be used by churches all year round, though many have used it during Lent. Each study focuses on a specific theme, inviting you to reflect on your experience, draw from the Bible, and then consider your response – both individually and as a church.

Download Together for Good

Categories
Community engagement

Lessons from a window sill in Eden (Street)

Maggie Harding’s neighbours decorate their external window sill with ornaments, trusting those who pass by not to take them. Inspired and challenged by this simple act of faith, which results in everyone feeling better about themselves and their community, she asks – do you have the faith to do something similar in your street?

I love my street! Sadly we’ll be moving in the next six months or so, but as I reflect on what I will miss, the street and the lessons I’ve learned about neighbourliness are near the top of the list.

We live in the North West and the street is named after the Eden River which flows nearby. It’s very appropriate!  According to my dictionary, Eden means essentially great delight or contentment and it’s no accident that Adam and Eve’s earthly paradise is described as a garden – a well-watered, fruitful place with plants and flowers.

So what’s so special about it? It’s a fairly busy road in a mixed area of terraced housing most of which opens straight onto the pavement – there are no front gardens here.  The houses are a mixture of rented and owner occupied and there’s a university campus in the vicinity so there are lots of students coming and going. Although it’s not known as a difficult area there’s been a fair amount of crime in the street: it’s sadly not uncommon for us to see police in the area and a neighbourhood watch group has recently been formed.

Home sweet home

But the street is a delight to walk down. Who needs front gardens? Nearly every house uses their doorstep or window sill (or both!) to lift our spirits – there are window boxes; plant pots on doorsteps; hanging baskets and heart-shaped wreaths.

It’s not just window boxes and plant pots.  As well as taking pride in their homes and displaying their gardening skills, my neighbours are quietly demonstrating their faith in all who pass by. In an act of trust that defies the possibility of crime and theft, the external window sill of one house in particular – right on the pavement – is adorned with ornaments like an indoor mantlepiece. On either side of a beautifully maintained planter – there is a candle in a pretty pot which says ‘Home sweet home’ and a star-shaped soapstone with ‘Tell a beautiful story’ on it.  Maybe the problem is I’ve lived in London and it made me distrustful – we did lose plants from outside our house – but we’ve had visitors from all over the country comment on it too. These decorative items would be so easy to pick up and pop in a pocket.  But we have lived here for nearly four years and they are still there.

Trust matters

As well as admiring their faith, I am struck every time I pass these houses by how it makes me feel. As well as just enjoying seeing beautiful things, and feeling pride in the street and the area, it’s made me think how good it feels to be trusted.  I know that there are people living in a poorly maintained block of rented houses on our street who are viewed with suspicion and mistrust as soon as they leave the house (I know this because I’ve heard the way some of my neighbours talk about them) so this is a powerful act – for everyone.

Studies show a correlation between low self-esteem, loneliness, and social connectedness in relation to trust (McWhirter, 1997 for one). For those of my neighbours who are struggling with life and may be losing their self-respect, or for anyone who had had a bad experience of crime can such a small thing really make a difference?  It may seem amazing, but I believe it’s true – recognising an act of faith, and seeing it rewarded can make people feel better about themselves and those around them.

Connected communities

In these days of division and fear, of labels and ‘othering’, this simple act packs a powerful punch. I believe God calls us to choose to believe the best about people and give them the benefit of the doubt. This visual and visible act, quietly witnesses to the truth and value of that. What an easy but powerful way to demonstrate our faith in our neighbours and humanity as a whole. Imagine what it would communicate to the world if our homes lead the way in this?

Living on this street has inspired me to up my game in terms of plants and baskets, and the lesson of trust will stay with me. But I’m sorry to say our window sill is currently bare. So the question is, in the future, wherever I am, do I have sufficient faith to go and do likewise? Do you?

Maggie Harding works with the Livability Community Engagement team and edits the Community Engagement eNews.

She lives in the North of England with her husband Carl, who is an Anglican curate, and two black cats.

 

 

 

Categories
Community engagement

Creating Community… a taster of the new ‘Together for Good’ resource

The crucial value of community

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26)

We humans are social beings – it’s one of our most fundamental characteristics. Four hundred years ago, John Donne wrote those famous words, “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of a continent, a part of the main”, and they are just as relevant today.

The Bible too has much to say about corporate relationships, or community. From the beginning, “God said, ‘It is not satisfactory for man to be alone; I will make him a helper complementary to him’” (Genesis 2:18). Indeed, God himself is a community of persons, the Trinity, who created humans in his own image (“Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness”, Genesis 1:26). Jesus gathered a group of people together, his twelve disciples, with others, to be the prototype of his new community. So we are on very solid ground when our focus is not simply on an individual Christian’s relationship with God, but also on the shared, communal dimension of our life together – the church.

Community – part of our DNA?

Human beings function best in groups – they were never designed to live alone. This propensity to band together and cooperate is instinctive, hard-wired into our DNA. In Together for Good, a follow up resource to Lifting the Lid, we’ve seen how the strength or weakness of our relationships, both individually and corporately, has a huge impact on our physical, mental and general health. But as a society we are not doing well with community relationships. Loneliness is becoming a huge problem.

One study showed that two-thirds of Britons say they have no one to speak to about mental health or relationships. Five million people say that the television is their main form of company. Mother Teresa expressed the matter succinctly: “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. There’s a hunger for love.”

In their study of human society, sociologists call the ties that bind people together in communities, social capital. If a neighbourhood has high social capital there is much connection, trust and cohesion. Two types of social capital are described. The first is all about bonding – tightly-knit groups who look, think and act like each other (family, friends, colleagues and ethnic groups function in this way). However, generally speaking, there is less interest and welcome for people who are different. The second type of social capital is termed bridging. Here, people from one group reach out to another group that is very different. This is much more challenging, but it provides the opportunity to break down age-old barriers and bring new and fresh life to groups that hitherto had no interest in each other.

Questions:
• What causes a community to turn in on itself, to focus only on bonding, with no interest in bridging to other, different groups?
• Conversely, what might help such a community to turn its attention outwards?
• What groups exist in your locality that have little or no contact with your church? How might you as a church begin to make contact with them?

Bringing it together

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Recently, the Christians in Practice project looked into the link between Christians’ engagement with their local communities and its impact on their own faith. The results were very revealing:

• 82% said that helping others in their community had helped them grow as a Christian
• 83% reported that it had increased their love for other people
• 77% affirmed that it had increased their love for God
• 72% agreed that it had helped them to understand their faith better

The passage in 1 Corinthians 12 shows how a group of people can develop bonding social capital, through healthy, generous, committed relationships. The Christians in Practice project demonstrates how outward-looking groups can extend bridging social capital, to the benefit of both givers and recipients.

Yet many churches struggle with both internal and external relationships. With busy and sometimes stressful lives and many conflicting commitments, many church members feel unable to engage with others in their church – let alone alone people in their neighbourhoods. The quality of our church community suffers and we are left wondering what to do.

One town shows the way: compassionate Frome

How did one Somerset town bring about a 17% fall in hospital admissions, whilst the whole county at that time saw a 29% rise? Simply put, it was because a local GP decided to take action on the dual challenge of over-medicalisation and increasing loneliness of her patients. How did she do it? By promoting and developing relational connections and community locally. She began to employ “health connectors” within the NHS to help people plan their care, but also recruited “community connectors” – volunteers who helped them find support. The result was that local people, rather than possessing symptoms of disease, discovered capacity to address their own problems.

Your church community

Question:
How might this example help you as a church community engage more effectively with your locality?

• Looking again at our passage (1 Corinthians 12), where would you see your church’s strengths?
• Research shows that community connection and support is one of the church’s strongest cards. So how might your church strengthen its own community life?
• Could you extend this beyond the walls of the church, to people who would never normally darken the door of their local church (ie grow bridging social capital)?

Together for Good is a new, free resource designed to provide churches with Bible Studies and group exercises exploring the themes of happiness, meaning and wellbeing.

Written and produced with wellbeing expert Dr Andy Parnham and Corin Pilling, Deputy Director of Public Engagement, the hope is that it will support churches to grow wellbeing as a basis for good mental health in their community.

The resource can be used by churches all year round, though many have used it during Lent. Each study focuses on a specific theme, inviting you to reflect on your experience, draw from the Bible, and then consider your response – both individually and as a church.

Download Together for Good