An inspirational story of everyday action and the coming together of a rural church community in support of those most vulnerable…
Bats, mice, spiders and the hourly chiming of bells did little to intimidate a trio of parishioners in the village of Barkby who recently spent the night sleeping in St Mary’s Church to raise money for the Bishop of Leicester’s Lent Appeal 2022.
Revd Biddy Saunders, her husband Phil and farmer’s wife Jane Mount, set up camp in the chancel and wrapped themselves in sleeping bags and woolly hats for the overnight adventure in aid of FareShare Midlands.
Many and various members of the church community, including the Patron family - John, Jayne and Simon Pochin - popped in during the evening to wish them well and support the cause behind their everyday action.
It had long been the ambition of former churchwarden, Jane, to sleep in St Mary’s and after various obstacles such as the pandemic getting in the way, she finally got to realise her dream on Thursday night.
She said: “I mentioned the idea to Biddy, who thought what better time to do it than during Lent and use it as an opportunity to raise money for those most vulnerable.
“The very real fear right now is that more and more people will be launched into poverty, which means more and more people will need to use foodbanks and run the risk of becoming homeless. The great thing about the Bishop’s Lent Appeal is that we know this money will be going straight to support the people who need it the most.”
So far, the total raised between them stands at around £1000, which will be an incredible boost for the work of FareShare Midlands - the region’s largest food redistribution charity, which reaches more than 35,000 vulnerable people every week through various enterprises such as foodbanks.
“It really feels as though this has pulled the church and community together, including our Benefice church St Peter and St Paul in Syston,” said Jane. “The generosity from people has spread far and wide. A friend of mine from Skilgate Church in Somerset even sent me a cheque. People have also gifted us their time and support this evening, and although not everyone is sleeping with us, they’ve become an important part of what we’re trying to achieve.”
Jane, who said the church feels like home to her, was looking forward to having time to reflect upon the cause during the night and spend time talking to God.
“I’m much like the gatekeeper,” said Phil, who recently retired after working 50 years in the NHS. “I’ve spent my life caring for people and now I don’t have the commitment and responsibility of work, it’s important for me to be able to support people in other ways and the community of Barkby has given me the opportunity.
“The church has a comfortable feeling about it, and it’ll be rather nice to snuggle up in my sleeping bag and enjoy the experience.”
Before lights out, Jayne and Simon Pochin returned and the five shared a simple compline service by candlelight. The sleepers settled down at around 11pm, surrounded by a soft glow coming through the church windows.
First thing the next morning we spoke with Revd Biddy who was in her usual high spirits, despite getting very little sleep.
“It went very well,” she said. “Despite the heating being off and the church icy cold, it was boiling hot in our sleeping bags, so hats and jumpers came off… but nothing else!
“I couldn’t sleep and was awake until 5am – I heard every chime – but it was very peaceful, and there was just a wonderful feeling of sanctuary. It was a time to reflect, to be quiet without distractions such as the TV, radio or WiFi, just wrapped up in our sleeping bags and God’s love,” said Biddy.
“Though our experience cannot be likened to homelessness, being without some of our creature comforts and with plenty of time and space to think, it certainly made us realise just how lucky we are.”
It also gave Biddy time to contemplate why she has been called to the parishes of Barkby and Syston. She explained. “I think I’m here for an awful lot of reasons, but mostly to help the people of the church realise what good they do in the village – their loving service of the world, their action in the community and the mission of the churches, which they don’t always recognise as being so.
“Last night demonstrated how God at work isn’t about what’s sandwiched between service sheets, but a sense of coming together in unity, in God’s place.
“We will continue to reflect on what this meant to us and the people in Barkby and pray that it might become an annual event. There were others who would like to have joined us and now we’ve demonstrated it can be done, making this a regular sleepover in aid of a chosen charity could strengthen the missional work of St Mary’s.”
Across Leicestershire alone 73,893 children are growing up in poverty, food insecurity and inadequate housing. That’s 73,893 children who begin life disadvantaged and often go without food, clothing, or basic supplies.
To help fight this and to raise funds to make a substantial difference to the lives of the most vulnerable people in Leicestershire, the Bishop of Leicester has chosen FareShare Midlands as the beneficiary charity of the Bishop’s Lent Appeal 2022.
Every £1 donated will help to create 4 meals for disadvantaged men, women, and children. Funds donated will also support those signed up to FareShare’s employability programmes to gain skills, training, and support to help them find work for the first time or after a long absence from the workplace.
To find out more about FareShare, and to donate to the Bishop of Leicester’s Lent Appeal 2022, visit: Diocese of Leicester | Bishop's Lent Appeal 2022 (anglican.org)