It is impossible to look back over the history of the Pastoral Centre at Emsworth Methodist Church without feeling an intense sense of admiration for those involved in its early years.
In 1977 the Queen’s Silver Jubilee offered opportunity for the church to throw open its doors to the local community. At that time church membership had been low for some years and it was a great undertaking for a small group of people. However, then as now, the church’s position in the centre of the village made it ideally placed for community gatherings and people came in large numbers, finding a friendly welcome and plenty of refreshments! The seed of an idea was planted.
It was in 1979 that the seed sprouted into life with the arrival of a large group of Vietnamese refugees to temporary accommodation on nearby Thorney Island. The church community, anxious to provide a welcome, opened its door to invite them in; and in they came, together with many local residents who needed a place to meet together for coffee without feeling pushed to move on as soon as cups had been emptied.
From the very beginning the Pastoral Centre has been an Ecumenical project, changing and adapting to suit new situations and needs. The building has changed almost beyond recognition since 1979, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the welcome, offered to all without expectation, 7 days a week. We use the Sanctuary rather than a separate room means that all this takes place within sight of the cross and the Communion Table, reminding staff, volunteers and visitors that the hospitality we offer is that of Jesus, which extends beyond Sundays, every day including all who come through the doors. It is fascinating to see people, initially a little anxious about coming ‘into church’ lower their guard and relax as they realize we’re actually quite friendly!
It would be impossible to write about the Pastoral Centre without mentioning the volunteers. More than 80 people from Emsworth and beyond who come along to serve tea and coffee, make the Tuesday ploughmans lunches, Thursday sandwiches, or Friday bacon ‘butties’, or simply to be an ear for anyone who needs someone to listen. Not to mention the unseen people who wash table cloths fix the water-heater and change the lightbulbs! All this headed up by our marvelous manager, Mandy. When a new volunteer was introduced to a regular visitor a couple of weeks ago, he shook her warmly by the hand and said ‘Welcome to the family.’ That speaks volumes.
One of the challenges the Pastoral Centre has always faced is how to give our customers, most of whom do not attend church on a Sunday, an experience of Christian discipleship. Our Café-Style service on the second Sunday of the month provides a bridge for those who wish to come, but it is the weekday events that attract the most interest. Whether it’s Carols and Mince Pies or Easter Praise and Hot Cross Buns you can usually guarantee a crowd, and even those who aren’t regular church-goers enjoy singing the hymns they remember from childhood. Faith in Film, a relatively new initiative, also provides opportunity for discussing Christian themes found in most films about life and relationships.
So, we’re celebrating the Pastoral Centre’s 40th Birthday on Sunday 14th July at 3pm. How else could we do this but with a café-style service?! There will be tea and cake and staff, volunteers and customers are being encouraged to write down their anecdotes and stories and put them in a special ‘Post Box’ so that we can share them as we worship God, give thanks for 40 years of ministry and pray for God to guide us into the future. At the Pastoral Centre we meet Methodists from churches all round the Southampton District and the wider Connexion. Whether you’ve been to us before, or are reading this and thinking ‘that sounds like a good idea!’ why not come along to join us for the service or stop for coffee some other time. You will be warmly welcomed.
As several of our regulars have put it over the years: “I love this place. I don’t know what I’d do without it” and “this is my second home”.