And be thankful…
Elisabeth Smyth reflects on 40 years of Independent churches working together to serve older Christians in Worthing.
Three little words: “And be thankful.” – that was how a Thanksgiving Service marking the 40th anniversary of Koinonia Christian Care Home in Worthing began and ended.
Preacher Dennis Read reminded us from Colossians 3 of the many reasons we have to be thankful to our God who gives grace and mercy in Christ. And my family and I have a very special reason to be thankful for this particular ministry: my Mum and Dad have been lovingly looked after at Koinonia for almost four years.
‘Koinonia’, of course, means ‘fellowship’, a word and an ethos that is integral to FIEC and our 579 churches and congregations. And it is an entirely appropriate name for this care home because it was established through the vision, prayer and giving of a group of FIEC churches in West Sussex in 1977.
An article in Fellowship (FIEC’s forerunner of Together magazine) explained how the seed of this ministry was first sown:
“In June 1968 a paper was read at the Minister’s fraternal of the Sussex FIEC entitled ‘Social Responsibilities of the Evangelical Church’. A good deal of discussion then took place concerning the real need that elderly Christians faced as they grew older in not being able to look after themselves in their own homes. Many Christians who had faithfully shared in the life of local churches over the years found that the only way open for them was to enter a local authority old people’s home, which often meant being separated from Christian fellowship.”
The following year a committee of ministers and others with specialised knowledge from FIEC churches was established under the chairmanship of Roland Fidge, then pastor of Lancing Tabernacle. From the beginning it was determined that a care home for elderly Christians should be established in a populated area close to an FIEC church.
After eight years of persistent prayer and patient planning, culminating in the purchase and refurbishment of a detached house within half a mile of Worthing Tabernacle, the first 11 residents were welcomed and Koinonia Christian Care Home was officially opened on 10 September 1977. Later that day David Mingard, then FIEC’s General Secretary, preached at the first Thanksgiving Service.
Since those early days God’s hand has been, and continues to be, clearly seen in the maintaining and growth of Koinonia and its ministry. That first house was followed in 1980 by the purchase of a second in an adjoining street and between 1986 and 2017 three more houses were bought, refurbished and joined to the originals, with many obstacles such as planning permission and financial needs being overcome through the prayers and giving of the churches.
And so Koinonia today is formed of five interlinked houses with a generous garden area, and is able to accommodate 39 elderly Christian residents. The necessity of this ministry is highlighted by the fact that in recent years the home has had an occupancy rate of 98%. In the words of its Treasurer, Alan Hare, this is ‘unique in the industry’.
But life in the care sector is not easy and already this year three other care homes in Worthing have closed. Koinonia exists because of that early commitment of FIEC churches to unite by praying, giving and working for a central vision.
That commitment and involvement from churches is just as vital today: care professionals need good pastoral care for themselves; trustees are needed to oversee the charity; volunteers are needed to help in numerous practical and spiritual ways. Without such ongoing help, the regular pastoral visits, worship services and daily epilogues are impossible to facilitate.
Koinonia is also a witness to Christ in a watching world. Only senior staff have an occupational requirement to be committed Christians, but every day all those on duty are present for a time of devotions and prayer. Christianity Explored has been run in the home for staff members and I know from my own dealings with the local hospital and other professional bodies that the home has an excellent reputation.
Phyllis Alabaster, manager of Koinonia since 2013, also has a vision to widen that witness through intentional outreach to the wider local community. Koinonia Community Foundation has recently been established with the aim of extending care facilities to those elderly Christians who are not resident within the home and, in particular, to help those family and church members who are their carers.
Those words “and be thankful” were a powerful reminder. This is a home where spiritual needs have equal priority with physical needs; where married couples are not separated despite differing needs and where the love and dedication of staff and volunteers is unquestionable.
The vision of churches working together more than 40 years ago continues to bear fruit today and for that I am thankful to God.