Upton is a small town on the banks on the River Severn with a close community. In a normal year, it hosts several large music festivals with a substantial influx of visitors. Due to the unfortunate frequency of major river flooding and the disruption that brings, Upton is a community used to coming together at times of adversity. The Baptist church is situated in the very centre of the town. Revd Amy Wearing started as the new priest in charge of Upton-upon-Severn Baptist church in July 2019.
Before Christmas 2019, Amy began an exciting new initiative for the whole of her congregation whereby they each adopted a shop, pub, business or restaurant. The idea for adopt a shop came from the church following the Faith on the Front Line series devised by the LICC (The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity). The purpose was to encourage the congregation to think about how they bring their faith into the work they do and their concern for the prosperity of the town in which they live.
Each member of the regular Sunday congregation were given two names of local businesses drawn from a hat. They were then encouraged to send a Christmas card and make a personal contact with the business.
After Christmas the congregation were encouraged to stay in contact and to befriend the shopkeepers/café owners and develop a knowledge about the business. Some have sent further cards or have been in contact again during the lockdown period. A few businesses have asked for asked for prayers for them on a Sunday.
As the initiative started to develop, Upton Baptist church began a partnership with Faith at Work in Worcestershire (FWW) and a few members of the congregation signed up for the training course An Introduction to Workplace Chaplaincy led by Revd Dick Johnson. Unfortunately, the some of the planned continuing training sessions had to be delayed due to extensive flooding in the town and were then further delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Just before the re-opening of non-essential shops, Amy and her husband have visited the shops in town centre, taking them welcome back chocolates, which had been donated, and a welcome back card. A few shops have been open throughout the lockdown, of course. Amy offered to pray with the shopkeepers. She reported that her visits were very well received.
The town of Upton-upon-Severn benefits from a wonderful community spirit, with many people both living and working there and a sense of everybody pulling together to help each other. Some shops even offered to help during the crisis with deliveries to those shielding.
There is huge concern for the town, as the summers are normally very busy, and the businesses thrive with the influx of the many visitors and the festival attendees. This summer will be exceptionally quiet in comparison, so there is great worry, as the summer income would usually enable many businesses to cope with the leaner winter months.
The Baptist Church is an integral part of the town, being a member of Upton Town Partnership, which co-ordinated the Covid crisis response locally and the church have also created “Festival Angels”, although this service will not be required for this year! The Church has a well-being space, which was created in response to one of the flooding episodes in the town.
Looking forward, the hope is to continue to encourage a chaplaincy team to continue to visit the shops and other outlets also to spend time in prayer for the town and its businesses. The Workplace Chaplaincy training with FWW which had been postponed will be completed in early July.
Amy highlights that the inspiration for the adopt a shop initiative and the LICC work encouraging such initiative can be summed up by the words of the bible verse found in Jeremiah 29:7
“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
The enthusiasm and momentum of community action taking place in and around the town, led by and involving Upton Baptist Church is inspiring. You can find out more by taking a look here. https://twitter.com/UptonChurch
New International Version (NIV)