It was a fraught few nights for Leeds curate, Revd Sue Rusholme, when her church decided to open its doors to celebrate everything that had been and look forward to building their future together.
Twenty five members of St Matthew’s, Chapel Allerton were tasked to each personally invite ten families or households back to church.
They worked on the premise they might get 120 and began to plan how they could transform their space.
They had to move back the pews, find some chairs, organise food to share, buy balloons, clean, decorate – so they begged and borrowed tables and chairs from their local school, roped in the scouts and their trailer for transport, bribed the men in their Loose Men Group with big breakfasts to come and help with the donkey work, and asked Nurture at St George’s Crypt in the centre of Leeds to provide the food.
In the end, 220 people turned up – including a group of residents from the nearby Rookery, a home for adults with learning difficulties which had had some contact with church.
“We all learned the importance of personal invitation and welcome – I took an invitation to a couple who used to come to church and they told me they were looking for a way back and this was it,” said Susan.
During the day they shared their stories, they talked about what the church could offer, what it should be doing, who had what talents and time to share, why they came to church, what St Matthew’s could do differently and ideas for the future.
The group from the Rookery said they didn’t always find the language easy to understand, they wanted to sing Makaton, a language programme using signs and signals to bridge communication difficulties - and they wanted to play a bigger role in the life of the church. Now, Hazel, one of the group, is a sidesperson and all seven are regular members of the congregation.
“It has also helped us as a church to grow in our own spirituality; it has deepened our relationship with God and with each other and we have learned how important it is to listen to each other, to talk to each other and not be afraid to let relationships grow at their own pace,” said Susan, who works part time in the mission resourcing team in our Leeds office.
“It was a wonderful day, so much so we didn’t want it to end,” she added.