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Growing a culture of gratitude in your church

Love your church logo with photos of some of the seven churches that make up the Bernwode Benefice.Bernwode benefice has grown a culture of gratitude, taught the congregations about intentionally inviting their neighbours to church, and grown average Sunday attendance fourfold. Revd Gemma Beesley sets out the why and the how in a new series of 'Love your Church' case studies.

I have been rector of our rural benefice for just over 18 months. Many people, clergy and lay alike, express surprise at the fact I serve seven villages, with seven medieval church buildings, seven PCCs and seven open churchyards: “SEVEN?! However do you manage all that on your own?” My answer is, I don’t! 

When deacons, priests and bishops are ordained, each promises to carry out their duties with our Lord’s assistance, ‘With the help of God I will.’ Now I am a parish priest with the help of God. But I also carry out my role with the help of the good people of our seven villages. So many people in my context faithfully serve the churches, even if they do not come to worship Sunday after Sunday. From grass to brass, choir to committees, bells to buildings, our churches (the buildings and the living stones) are well supported, loved and cared for. And everyone is very grateful.

But... one week before Christmas Mary made a cake for the first time for refreshments after church. It was delicious, everyone told her how nice it was, and I thanked her especially, and we all agreed on the importance of Christian hospitality. However, the next week someone told me Mary was feeling a bit upset because no-one said thank you for her cake. 

This made me realise the important distinction between individual church members and the church. If Mary was feeling unappreciated, what about the man who mows the old part of the churchyard who I know exists but have never met, let alone thanked?

So we devised Love Your Church. A benefice-wide initiative in which each church invites absolutely everyone who does anything for their village church for a special service of celebration, prayer, and commissioning in which all are publicly thanked for their contributions. 

All the churches totally got behind this vision. Personal handwritten letters were composed, posters went up, flyers were dropped, doors were knocked on and neighbours invited neighbours to church. Each service was followed by celebration refreshments, and each church used its gifts to the max: bacon rolls, mountains of beautiful homemade cakes, great coffee, sausage sandwiches, wine and nibbles in abundance! 

And people came! Average Sunday attendance went up fourfold. In great apostolic tradition we laid hands on each other as we prayed for and commissioned one another. Everyone felt welcomed, valued, and loved. Thanks be to God. We have agreed that this should be an annual event each February, and are now pondering what other occasions throughout the year we might do something similar. 

For me it has been an absolute joy, I believe it has done much to grow a culture of gratitude within our benefice, and taught our people a lot about being intentional about inviting their neighbours to church (they come!). I commend Love Your Church to my siblings in Christ and am happy to chat to anyone who would like to know more. 

Revd Gemma Beesley, Rector, Bernwode Benefice, March 2023

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Page last updated: Tuesday 7th March 2023 10:54 AM
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