One of the things I love about Gateshead is the way it does community festivals. Gateshead probably has more community festivals per head of population than most other towns. They happen in many parts of the borough. There are two in my parish. So it makes sense for the church to take part.
Today was the Teams Community Festival. On Sunday 30 June will be the Bensham & Saltwell Festival. It happens on a Sunday rather than a Saturday to make it possible for the Jewish community to attend, though they still don’t come.
St Chad’s Church gets involved in the festivals so that the church is seen as a part of the community. We join in the fun – I do twisty balloons for donations (which today ranged from a leaf and an unwanted tombola prize to £1, but came to £29 – I have ordered another batch of balloons for £43, but that includes a bag of white balloons for baptism sermons).
And we give out information about the church. We had some small bags printed by Clever Baggers (http://thecleverbaggers.co.uk/) saying “Parish of Bensham & Teams: St Chad’s Church”. In them we put a leaflet about the church and what we offer, a prayer leaflet by the Prayer Trust (http://www.theprayertrust.org.uk/), a small wooden cross by Wooden Crosses, and a couple of sweets. We gave away 48 bags today. And Anne and Mavis had some good conversations with people who talked about the churches they used to go to.
On the table, we had more information to give as appropriate: leaflets about our once a month Saturday afternoon family service, leaflets about special services and events between now and Christmas, leaflets advertising St Chads for baptisms, weddings, concerts & performances, meeting rooms.
There were also a couple of prayer activities. The most popular was the Holy Dip. This is a box with a hole in the top. People can put a hand through the hole and pick a prayer card to take away. They were also invited to write down a prayer request, but only a couple of people did.
We were lucky with the weather. There was a shower in the morning, but it just about kept dry for the Festival. Last year, we were washed out. But it was too windy to put up the gazebo.
It is essential is to make it obvious what we are representing, so I made a table cloth saying “Your Big Local Church” with an image of St Chad’s. Big Local were sponsoring the Festival.
Every time we take part, we learn a little more about doing it better. I wish I knew whether it made a difference. It is impossible to judge the impact of engaging with the community in this way. But at least people see the church on their own territory, and we are human and having fun, and getting alongside them.