The OUT dimension of church: Sunningdale sheltered housing

This story illustrates the principles of The OUT dimension of church in the Guide.

None of the residents of Sunningdale sheltered housing block for the elderly find themselves able or willing to attend their parish church in Moreton, Wirral.

So now around 20 residents enjoy a monthly worship meeting held on the third Wednesday of the month, encouraged by a Church of England reader, Lesley Bailey, and led by the residents themselves.

Lesley, who in 2004 was studying for a PhD in Ministry, began looking at ways to reach out to her local community. After the annual carol service at Sunningdale, led by Lesley’s parish church, the rector encouraged her to make a start with a Sunningdale based initiative.

Leafleting the 108 apartments is now part of Lesley’s monthly preparations for the service. She also spends at least one afternoon a month in Sunningdale, a tower block in one of Moreton’s most deprived areas, visiting residents whether or not they attend services.

Of those who do attend, most have had church connections (not necessarily Church of England) but are too disabled to go to church on Sundays, while some have no church background.

She has noticed a growing sense of community among members, who now ‘look out’ for one another

After the first year, Lesley handed over the service to the residents, who organise the prayers and deliver the reading. She has noticed a growing sense of community among members, who now ‘look out’ for one another, while some have experienced a renewal in personal faith.

All this has developed despite initial difficulties. Publicity material was removed within the tower block, and over half the start-up team from the parish church left early on. Two of the original core team now attend Sunningdale services regularly, instead of the family orientated services usually held in the parish church on a Sunday morning.

Lesley hopes that a Bible study group will develop out of the monthly services, while a craft and chat afternoon open to anyone is planned for 2007.

What began as an offshoot of the annual carol service has grown into a supportive fellowship in a previously disregarded corner of a parish.

Sunningdale sheltered housing

Sunningdale is a community of 108 self-contained, warden-assisted flats all occupied by elderly people. Lesley Bailey, a lay-reader at Christchurch, with four others began church services here eighteen months ago.

Lesley says she is well known now among the residents. Some will join in for the end of worship cup of tea even though they don’t attend the rest of the worship. Others will ask for prayer.

There is much to give thanks for at this stage:

  • over ten percent of the community are already in the congregation;
  • members are fully involved in the worship;
  • the entire community being personally invited to each service.

Some members of the congregation are able to lead prayers and others feel comfortable reading the Bible. They may not have done this in a larger church.

Several have rediscovered their faith since services began at Sunningdale. One struggled for several months to overcome her agoraphobia so she could attend the services that are held in the residents' lounge. Now she reads the lesson with enthusiasm and commitment.

Lesley is very excited about how the church is developing. She hopes the next step will be a more in-depth study of the Bible for those who are interested.