The Welcome - update May14

Monday, 12 May, 2014

Ben Clowes updates the story of The Welcome in Knutsford, the 'newest' church in Methodism.

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Transcript

Ben Clowes: If you were to drive off the M6 into Knutsford you might think that all of it's wealthy – even as you drive up to this end of Knutsford, you pass the Bentley garage for Manchester, an area of extreme wealth, but it's not all like that. Within Knutsford itself there is really only this one estate and its neighbouring estate, Shaw Heath - both of which are overspill - but the rest of the town, 80% of the town, is extremely wealthy. Within the same postcode bracket and within the same electoral ward are the £3/4m houses in the town, which causes immense problems with any funding for anything that goes on on this estate.

The Welcome began about 19 years ago but it didn't begin as The Welcome that you see today; it began as a project from the local Methodist Circuit where one of the churches had some money left from a building project and decided to appoint a deacon who came onto the estate and simply listened, simply wanted to find out what could the church do to help – not just to be church but to actually help people who are in such great need. It's the community who gave this place its name; they called it The Welcome because that's what it is.

Male voice: It's called the Welcome Club and I always feel welcome I come in here.

Female voice: The Welcome Church has always been very important to me but when my son died of alcohol poisoning, the support that the church from The Welcome - combined with the church from the people that came from the Methodist Church - was outstanding and I really don't think that my husband and I would have been able to cope as well as we did without it.

Ben Clowes: From its early beginnings as a sort of second-hand shop when we got the first unit, and then a soup kitchen, and then all the children's work; we now have so much that goes on. It's an absolute kaleidoscope of different events and sessions that are run – everything from the craft club and the education workshops, helping adults who struggled in high school, and even beyond there, to do anything in life because their literacy levels were so low to just learn simple basics, to help them to get a job. There's a job club, a credit union, there's masses of stuff; so much so that we've had to set up a separate charity who now runs most of that side of things that enables the church to be 'church', that enables us to do the spiritual side. We still look after the spiritual, social and emotional wellbeing of all the residents of the estate and that's, in a sense, why it's such a kaleidoscope of things because we meet the needs of the people. We look and we listen.

From the early beginnings there was a real sense of people of faith being drawn in, often people who initially were dechurched but, over the years, we've had a lot of people who were very unchurched  who've found a home here – people who if you'd said, 'Are you going to go to church?' Well, they might go if it's a wedding or a funeral but that at a push; often they'd rather just go to the do afterwards.

The community developed and the church developed in their way to the extent that when I became the minister here in 2009, one of the things that became very clear as we were beginning the process of setting up the charity was also that they wanted formally to be recognised as a church. They were a separate entity of another church to begin with for many, many years and they kept coming to me and saying, 'Why are we not church? We are church, this is church!' So we went through the process and are formally now a church in their own right - but in their way.

When you talk to the people who are coming to Travellers' Bible study they are all at a different stage on their journey - and the same with our Sunday worship and the same with our craft club. Over the years they've been people who've been on a journey. Craft club has less of a spiritual emphasis to it but it's still about meeting the needs of the people; and where those needs are spiritual the people who come, they share their faith. And they share those journeys.

Over the recent years we've seen particularly local people becoming leaders within the church in their own right. Julie and Rowena have become church stewards and Julie came initially about eight years ago as the cook to The Welcome, only with a person not of faith, only doing a demon chocolate cake - and now she's out in the rest of the Circuit preaching.

Julie: Seven years ago I started working at The Welcome, absolutely no interest in Christianity whatsoever. Since then I have come regularly to worship and through there have realised how the Holy Spirit works. The Welcome is such a wonderful place and what we try and do is treat people as Jesus would have treated them, with love and compassion and kindness.

Ben Clowes: Rowena has come on from strength to strength, from somebody who's struggled with life in general to now being able to be a person who people in the church turn to and say, 'What can I do about this?' And even in the midst of all the problems she faces still in her life, she's still able to help other people to move forwards.

Rowena: I came to The Welcome, spoke to Debbie over something and then I started to come to The Welcome church regularly. I also got married in February two years ago and had a wedding blessing here. The Welcome Church is so…a good part of my life, I really enjoy coming and there's always somebody at the end of the phone if I need to speak to them. There's always somebody there.

Ben Clowes: One of the challenges of my ministry, being a minister in north Cheshire, is having the Longridge estate as one of my places of ministry which is one of the most challenged wards in Cheshire east. But I also have churches in Alderley Edge which is the richest square mile in Britain so I have both extremes and both give me life in different ways. Yes, this place is tough, yes there are occasions where on a Sunday you could have had a whole service planned - and it's not a normal service in any stretch of the imagination - somebody comes through the door drunk, on drugs or whatever and we abandon; we deal with that person's needs at that time. This is a really tough place to be minister but it's also a place of great fun, great life, talking to the people and sharing their journey – that's the thing that gives me life and actually enables me to realise that the very same problems that I see here are the very same problems that I see in my other ministries where there's an immense more wealth around within the churches, and within the areas – the same problems, just different ways of approaching them.

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