COVID has been a watershed moment for many of us. We have been excited to support Bridge Community Church in Bury St Edmunds as they’ve been rethinking their community engagement.
When it comes to community development, experience is everything, which is why we love to connect churches across the country who are working in this area. Like many churches, everything changes for Bridge Community Church in Bury St Edmunds during COVID.
The church was quick to adapt and take their services online. They also started collecting prescriptions, doing shopping for those who were isolating, and running a food bank supporting around 80 people every week.
Learning on the job
While their response was rapid, the church was really learning as they went, which is why they connected with Cinnamon. “We tapped into everything during COVID that was online [from Cinnamon]. I think I read every PDF, watched every video, took part in each webinar. This helped shape both our COVID and post-COVID response,” explains David Oakley, Lead Pastor at the church.
During the height of the COVID pandemic, the church was running up to 10 initiatives supporting around 250 people every single week. It was no mean feat for a church with an average congregation of 150 across 2 sites on a Sunday. The church is living proof that you don’t need all the answers and a ton of experience before you start connecting with your community.
When we developed our Cinnamon Connect online learning community, we wanted to help churches quickly access resources, ideas, and advice. It has been great to see Bridge Community Church use it for just that.
“Cinnamon Connect has provided us with a library of knowledge that we can use anytime,” continues David. “It has given our team the opportunity to develop and get support that cannot be offered through internal church.”
The church is now running 11 community projects from addiction support groups and coaching in schools to a Community Grocery, English language classes for Ukrainian refugees, various family support initiatives in partnership with the local council, and a Hope for All housing initiative. In the next year, the church estimates they’ll be supporting over 300 people every week.
“Cinnamon helped us shape some of this thinking to shift away from a scatter gun approach to community engagement by becoming community hub with a family support emphasis to build on the strong links we already work have with our community,” explains David. “We felt it more appropriate to be a centre for our community and then respond to the needs that emerged from the families we engage with and listen to.”
Including those they are seeking to serve in the development of their work is crucial to the church’s approach. *Carmen’s story epitomizes a lot of what the church is looking to achieve. Four years ago, Carmen used the church’s food bank. While she was there to get support for a very specific need, she built friendships and made important connections with the church.
Fast forward and Carmen’s life is now in a very different place. She no longer needs support from a food bank and is now employed as a part-time community worker. What’s more, she’d got her family involved in volunteering for the scheme they gained so much from.
As they look to the future, the church is keen to continue learning from the community and from other churches working in this area. “The ongoing support now provided by Cinnamon Connect is an exciting development that we have already gleaned so much from but has even more to offer moving forward,” concludes David.
Kate has spent her career working in communications for a variety of UK and international charities. With a passion for words, Kate also contributes blogs, article and content for publications across the UK and beyond.