IN APRIL 2017, in response to a national appeal, St Nicholas’s, Blakeney, in Norfolk, held a Christian Aid “Big Breakfast” to raise funds for the famine crisis. I do not think any of us appreciated just what would follow from this event.
Schoolchildren and their parents and grandparents, as well as visitors of all ages, thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to get together over breakfast. Many people from our community who did not regularly attend services (apart from special occasions) had come into church — initially to give their support for the charity, but then asking if we could introduce a regular breakfast, as they had enjoyed it so much.
Could we — a group of very willing volunteers — take this initiative forward? After a slight hesitation, we realised that this would be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to the community and surrounding villages that our beautiful church building was not just a place of worship, but should be at the heart of our community, and for everyone.
Once a month, it could become a place not only for those who lived alone and were in need of someone to talk to, but for young families who could not afford to go out together for a meal, or where the frail or elderly could be brought for a hot meal and company. It could become a place for everyone who enjoyed getting together, sharing a meal, and having a chat with the stranger sitting next to them; and a place for visitors to witness how it was possible for the church really to become part of the community.
Over the past two years, it has been remarkable to see how the Blakeney Breakfast has grown and become a regular fixture in the life of Blakeney and the surrounding villages (Diary, 4 January). We open the doors at 7.50 a.m. on the first Wednesday of every month, welcoming many children and families from the primary school next door. Many are children with whom we have already built up a relationship through weekly “Open the Book” sessions in the school, and monthly Messy Church.
There is a buzz as everyone enjoys their breakfast together; and, by 8.45 a.m., we have already served, on average, more than 50 people. The event continues until 11 a.m., and many people come and enjoy food and friendship together. Our numbers have grown from the 65 who attended that first breakfast to 120-plus; our record is 148.
Chris WheelerBlakeney Lunch, during a flower festival
AFTER the success of the Blakeney Breakfast — and, again, in response to requests — just over 18 months ago we introduced a monthly Blakeney Lunch on the third Wednesday of every month. This, too, has gone from strength to strength: more than 75 attend. We serve delicious home-made soup and puddings during the winter, and home-made quiches and salad (also followed by home-made puddings) during the summer.
We decided not to impose a minimum charge, as this might deter a family on low income with children. Instead, we put out two jars for donations: people can put in whatever they think is fair, or can afford; if it is nothing at all, that is not a problem. We always have a small surplus after everything has been taken into account, and the financial aspect is secondary to the outreach benefit that these events have for the community and for the church.
Mission is not forgotten. At each event, we ensure that four or five volunteers are present to “meet, mingle, and mardle [chat]”. For anyone who wants to talk to a member of our ministry team, or pray with them — which does happen — we try to ensure a visible clerical presence in the form of a retired priest (we are currently in an interregnum). On many occasions, he and the other volunteers have eaten copious amounts of toast and drunk gallons of coffee in the course of the morning.
Holy communion is celebrated in the chancel of St Nicholas’s every other Wednesday throughout the year; when this coincides with the Blakeney Breakfast (which is held in the nave), breakfasters are welcome to attend.
None of this would be possible without the support and encouragement of the churchwardens and PCC members, and the amazing team of unpaid volunteers, some of whom are members of the Blakeney RC Church and Blakeney Methodist Church — a wonderful witness of Churches Together working jointly.
Other volunteers may not attend any church, but are keen to be involved, because they appreciate that the Blakeney Breakfast and Lunch are community events, organised by the church, but for everyone. Over the past two years, volunteers have become familiar with our beautiful church and members of its congregation, and now feel part of it.
Tricia Temple-Crowe is Benefice Administrator for the Glaven Valley Benefice.
To think about:
*Make sure of enough volunteers to enable the event to be sustainable.
*Encourage volunteers from outside the church family: some people just like to be asked.
*Advertise the Breakfast or Lunch prominently in local magazines or publications, and display notices in the vicinity — a week in advance is usually enough.
*Ensure that the event is held on a regular day and at a regular time.
*Keep it simple; know your limitations. We do not have a cooker in church, but we do have a griddle to cook the bacon; the microwave is excellent for cooking scrambled eggs; fried eggs just need a low heat. Hot bacon rolls are a huge hit. We do have an LA “Five Star” rating
*We ensure that our food and fruit is as fresh as possible; we do internet shopping, which is delivered to the church and saves hours. Food expenditure is carefully monitored. Look out for special deals on non-perishable items.
*Chairs and tables are set out around the font at the back of the church, and laid up the day before.
*Porridge, cereal, fresh fruit, fruit juice, chocolate brioche (very popular with the children), warm croissants, and a selection of jams and marmalade are all set out on a long table for self-service. Two toasters are available for visitors to make their own toast. Volunteers go from table to table to take orders for the hot food, which is cooked to order.
*We have a small chest freezer in the kitchen; so surplus food can be frozen, ready for next time.
*Communication with volunteers, and showing appreciation for all that they do, is key to retention: we hold an annual “thank-you” event for all our church volunteers, and an additional one for all the Breakfast and Lunch volunteers.