The pandemic has given Elim Church Northampton the chance to transform its relationship with the community. Chris Rolfe reports
When a volunteer from Elim Church Northampton discovered a 90-year-old man looking dishevelled and disorientated alone in his home, she knew action was needed.
She was delivering hot meals made by the church to vulnerable residents in the area.
Thanks to this timely visit, she was able to alert the relevant health carers, and the man received the help and attention he needed.
Meal deliveries is just one of the ways Elim Church Northampton has forged new links with residents, families and staff in its community during the pandemic, explains Co-Lead Pastor Lynda Heron.
“At the start of the pandemic, we noticed a few elderly people from our senior’s lunch club beginning to struggle. Many didn’t have family nearby, they weren’t familiar with the Internet or FaceTime and were becoming cut off from people.
“We began delivering hot meals once a week to maintain a connection and make sure everything was OK. It became a bit of a lifeline to them.”
The idea blossomed, with 50-plus meals now being delivered each week, cooked in the church’s kitchen by Assistant Pastor Ryan Ireland and Terry Anne from Northampton’s professional catering business Terry’s Kitchen.
But it’s not just church members and vulnerable locals who are benefiting, says Lynda.
“It’s working two ways, because we’re getting people from the community wanting to join our church teams to give out the meals.
“My hairdresser asked to get involved, for instance, and is now delivering meals. She’s not Christian or a churchgoer, but since the pandemic she’s been watching us online. She was part of the team this week and she posted on Instagram how much it affected her talking to these older people.”
Meals aren’t the only way the church is connecting with its community, however. At the height of the pandemic, when Northampton General Hospital was overrun with Covid cases, the church began delivering emergency supplies to patients.
“It started because Covid patients often go to hospital in an emergency,” says Lynda. “They don’t have time to pack, then friends and family can’t visit them. We provide hospital bags with essentials like toothbrushes, shampoo and shower gel.”
But seeing the strain NHS staff were under, the church extended the scheme to bless hospital staff too.
“We sent out pamper gifts to the NHS staff to say ‘thank you, we’re cheering you on’. We asked a nurse what they’d like. She said, ‘Our feet are hurting us and our lips and hands get dry’, so we give them high-end toiletries like foot and lip balms.”
To build community connections still further, the church recently launched a brand-new initiative.
The new Hannah’s House scheme is supporting new mums and pregnant women during the Covid season, especially those affected by premature births.
“Hannah’s House is especially close to my heart as my own daughter-in-law gave birth last June during the first lockdown. She gave birth at 25 weeks all alone because Covid rules meant pregnant women were not allowed anyone with them, and while my granddaughter Noah is now doing well, she was dependent on ICU life support for a long time.
“After some research I learned there was a spike in premature births and increased depression among pregnant women who were alone and couldn’t share their experiences.
“I talked with Tanya, a lady in our church who works in these areas, and we created a Facebook page and other platforms like FaceTime and Zoom so that women could connect.
“Hannah’s House creates a forum for mums who are cut off from friends and family and are on their own for appointments and deliveries, to talk to others in the same situation.
“We even run baby showers online too. Again, it’s evangelistic. It’s open to everyone, especially on social media, not just people from church.”
Lynda is thrilled that not only have Elim Church Northampton’s projects helped local people, they have also helped transform a previously fractious relationship between the church and its community.
“Before Covid, our congregation was increasing, which was great, but it worsened the traffic congestion to the annoyance of the immediate community, to the point that the local councillor and traffic police began to take action. We’d come to a limit with what we could do in our community.
“But since the pandemic things have turned around completely. Firstly, we’ve now moved our services to The Old Savoy Theatre in Northampton town centre, which is a much bigger venue with a multi-storey car park. And secondly, we’re reaching our community and helping them through our many projects in response to Covid.
“Over Christmas we booked a whole show of the theatre’s sleeping Beauty pantomime and gave 300 tickets to our unchurched community. Every visitor had a gift pack from the church and children’s charity Blazing Glory provided 150 Bibles and every child that attended was given one.
“Prominent people like our local councillor have gone from being against us to being for us, and the council has even given us money to support our projects.
“Covid has changed the way we do things. We’ve got a much bigger local outreach programme and the community has opened up to us.”