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Churches rally round to help their communities during week of snow and ice

09 March 2018


Choristers from Chichester Cathedral take time out last Friday to enjoy the snow

Choristers from Chichester Cathedral take time out last Friday to enjoy the snow

AS THE “Beast from the East” and Storm Emma — blamed for the deaths of at least 15 people — begin to subside, stories have emerged this week to demonstrate the resourcefulness shown by people around the country.

In the Wiltshire village of Collingbourne Ducis, near Marlborough, parishioners of St Andrew’s opened their doors to motorists trapped in snow on the main Salisbury to Swindon road.

The Team Vicar of the Savernake benefice, of which St Andrew’s is a part, the Revd Joanne Reid, said: “A farmer was already helping tow vehicles up the steep hill that runs out of the village, but it was a slow process, and traffic was gridlocked for hours. We decided to open the church as a place where people could at least wait in the warm and get a hot drink, and also directed people to local pubs and B&Bs.”

Then, late in the evening, Ms Reid rang round villagers, seeking spare beds. “It was a big ask, but people responded generously. I am immensely proud of my parishioners. To the people of Collingbourne Ducis — you are absolutely the best.”

Newcastle Cathedral opened its doors to rough sleepers after a social-media campaign by Donna Robinson, from Blyth, recruited dozens of volunteers to help hand out food and warm clothing donated by the public. She told the Newcastle Chronicle: “This is the first time I’ve ever been involved in something like this, and the way people have taken to it has been utterly overwhelming.

“I was just sitting in the house looking out the window, and imagining how hard it must be to try and stay alive in this weather. The cathedral said they would be happy to stay open through the night, but they didn’t have the staff to make it happen. I posted about it on Facebook, and within an hour we had dozens of people saying they would come down and help.”

Canon Clare MacLaren said: “This is the exact sort of thing churches should be doing at this time of year. We’re a city-centre cathedral at the heart of the community, and the core message of Christianity is to love thy neighbour. These people are our neighbours.”

ST PAUL’S, CARDIFFSt Paul’s, Cardiff, which had a larger than usual congregation on Sunday

In Dorset, the Bishop of Sherborne, the Rt Revd Karen Gorham, asked better-off pensioners to donate their £200 winter-heating allowance to the Dorset Community Foundation’s Surviving Winter appeal for older people who are suffering fuel poverty and social isolation.

She said: “Many self-reliant older people are at risk at the moment, particularly if they turn down their heating to save money. Any donation can help someone in fuel poverty get through the current crisis and insulate their home for the future.”

More than 120 grants of £200 have already been made.

The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, posted a message online, reminding church communities “to check on those who may need some basic food or company, and to work with our ecumenical partners for those who are vulnerable. I know many of you are doing this already, and I am very grateful.”

A record number of alerts — more than 3600 — were sent to the app StreetLink, within a 24-hour period at the height of last week’s big freeze. The app allows people to alert local authorities about rough sleepers in extreme weather conditions.

In London, 500 extra beds in shelters, hostels, and churches were made available after councils across the country implemented Severe Weather Emergency Protocols for rough sleepers.

A spoksman for St Mungo’s, a charity for homeless people, said that it had found one man, known only as Sam, in an underpass, with no sleeping bag but just the few clothes he was wearing. He was taken to a shelter, where he said he was “very, very grateful” and “relieved that someone was there, that someone actually cared”.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, posted on Twitter last week that almost £20,000 had been donated to the London Homeless Charities Group . He said: “I’m making sure nobody has to sleep out in the cold.”

The weather caused widespread disruption to church activities. In Leeds diocese, Wakefield Cathedral and Halifax and Dewsbury Minsters were forced to close, while at Ripon and Bradford Cathedrals and Leeds Minster the choirs were stood down for evensong on Thursday of last week for a said evening prayer instead, because the risk to those travelling was thought to be too high.

Drifting snow in south Wales meant that services in the parish of Dowlais and Penydarren had to be cancelled. But the Priest-in-Charge at All Saints’, Dowlais, the Revd Caroline Owen, managed her own act of worship last Sunday in the deserted church after going with a server, Martin Jones, to check for burst pipes. She said: “Martin walked ahead like Good King Wenceslas, and I walked in his footsteps, up past my knees in snow. The church was warm, and we celebrated a quiet eucharist — ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name’. It was wonderful to enjoy an hour of peace after the stresses and strains of frozen boilers and water pipes.”

Also among the cancellations was the Wales National Civic Service at St John the Baptist, Cardiff.

A decision to bring forward service times on Sunday at the two churches in the Grangetown district of Cardiff — St Paul’s, Grangetown, and St Dyfrig and St Samson — produced larger than usual congregations. The Priest in-Charge, the Revd David Morris, attributed this to “cabin fever”. He reported, however: “On arrival at St Dyfrig and St Samson, we discovered that the church boiler had given up the ghost, so that particular service was a bit chilly.”

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