A warm and open space to connect with other people in a caring environment has opened at Brunswick Baptist Church (BBC), based on the concept of the Renew Wellbeing program seen in churches across the UK.
The new Renew space aims to support wellbeing and reduce isolation by providing several communal areas where people can come to relax, share hobbies, pray or spend time in quiet reflection. BBC Associate Pastor Jenn Garavito Alarcon said the spaces provided a place where it’s “ok not to be ok”.
“The aim is to foster acceptance, belonging and community. What we learned in the UK is that people are sometimes suspicious and uneasy which makes it difficult for them to connect with the community, and Covid didn’t help, so these spaces help people to build trust again, to engage in relationship with the community in ways that they enjoy. We are building supportive relationships and trying to improve social solidarity and connection.”
In the UK, Renew Wellbeing operates as a national charity that any church can work alongside. Being present, being prayerful and being in partnership are the key principles behind each Renew space. Churches are encouraged to create partnerships with council or mental health services in the nearby area to enable access to additional support if needed. The charity recommends keeping the space simple and therefore less stressful for the hosts, such as offering tea and coffee for people to help themselves, or partnering with a nearby bakery or café where people can go to get food if needed.
While the Renew space at BBC has only just started, Jenn said people had responded very positively, appreciating the opportunity to share some of the things they enjoy with others.
“One person who has come along likes art, and we asked him if he would like to bring his painting in, or perhaps to show us how to paint. Another girl loves sewing and one morning she brought in something that she had made, which was fantastic. We are still learning the dynamics in our context but we are creating those spaces and opportunities for people to share with each other their hobbies and interests.”
Jenn said some people simply appreciated a place of solitude for prayer and expressing their emotion to God, and it was important not to invade people’s space.
“We Christians want to help people, want to fix people – not with a bad intention, because we want them to feel the love and healing power of God – however it’s important to walk with people in their moment of struggle and for their struggles to be ok, not fixing them but being with them. What we observe, that is very healing and powerful, is an opportunity for people to feel safe even if they are ugly and messy. Really, all of us are ugly and messy, and we are learning to be ok with that.”
At Brunswick Renew, a light meal is provided courtesy of volunteers as “a simple way of sharing community”. The church will monitor and adapt the Renew space as the need arises.
Another Renew venture that enables people to connect and belong is BBC’s Latin Renew group, which meets twice a month at the church and is led by Jenn. The group started in September because some friends wanted to spend time together discussing ideas around spirituality. Jenn said the group was diverse with people of many different beliefs, but everyone joined in with an attitude of “acceptance and empathy”, and people are encouraged to share thoughts and raise questions without judgement.
“Our aim is to create healthy and open interpersonal relationships. When we create this mindset from compassion, empathy and solidarity, we are able to create a more inclusive society. Everyone is responsible for that to happen. I’m creating this common place for common values, not putting too much weight on our differences, but pretty much what Paul writes about in Galatians – my prayer is that people will see the fruit of the Spirit in us as we lead this group.”