The local church taking its place at the wellbeing table
Several years ago as a result of a breakdown Ruth Rice found herself opening a café style space in Nottingham run by a wonderful local Baptist church. Working alongside overburdened mental health services, it offered a place for wellbeing, as well as providing a quiet space to join in the rhythms of prayer.
The start of Renew Wellbeing
“Renew 37, looks like a café but feels more like a shared front room. For the last six years this little space has opened four days a week as a safe place to belong. This place of prayer attached to a space for community to bring and share a hobby, brought me so much peace. I was delighted when other churches wanted to try something similar and in 2017 Renew Wellbeing , the charity I now lead, was born.
Her charity Renew Wellbeing now runs 105 centres nationwide providing wellbeing and support. As highlighted in our House of Good report the replacement costs of social and community services such as Renew Wellbeing, that are provided in church buildings is as least £200 million per year.
We developed simple ways to train, support and encourage churches to set up quiet shared spaces where its ok not to be ok, where we can be present, prayerful and be in partnership with local mental health services.
By March 2020 there were 50 Renew centres nationally and it was wonderful to see churches interpreting the values of presence, partnership and prayer in outdoor spaces, cafes and local church buildings. Many churches wanted to use their buildings and I began to see how you could very simply adapt a space to be open to the community.
Then we hit a global pandemic. All the cafes closed overnight and I thought it was all over. However it had only just begun.
105 centres open nationally
Over this last year and half all our training has gone online. The church has begun to really understand the need for such spaces. At the time of writing this we have 105 centres open nationally and many more in training.
Some of these were open before the pandemic like Renew 23 in Purley where a group of Christians from around the town share church premises to run a beautiful Renew space in the Baptist church with a view to rolling out the Renew idea to other churches in the town.
Some like Renew 233 Haggate, Burnley have started on screens during lockdown and then opened their church hall up for folk to come safely, socially distanced in small groups and bring a cuppa and a hobby they can do together.
Some of our churches like the Baptist church in Sutton St James also run a café as they are the only community space for people to gather safely. Some partner with local businesses so that the church can keep its offer really simple.
There are so many wonderful spaces I would love to tell you about them all. However big or small the building or the group of people, a Renew space is always possible.
The heartbeat of each space is prayer. Putting our social action right up next to our prayer habits and making our prayer spaces open to all is our best, most honest, offer.
There is no them and us with mental and emotional health. It is Ok not to be OK. Even if we are the church.
Church buildings are a gift to our communities
I have realised that our church buildings are a gift to our communities at this time as the need for places to connect safely is more vital than ever. Many of our church buildings have space to socially distance and a ready made community on hand to belong to.
Ruth believes that the local church, both the people and the building are key to helping with wellbeing. Many stories coming out of this simple movement are detailed in the book “Slow down , Show up and Pray” which also contains the manual to set up a centre or check out the free resources on www.renewwellbeing.org.uk.