Christmas Dinners Needing a Home
How one church in Manchester adapted their Christmas outreach plans to serve the vulnerable in their community.
Surely eleven months is enough to organise multiple carol services, carol singing in Piccadilly Gardens, and a Nativity play to knock the socks off Mr Poppy’s?! That’s what we thought in January last year. We’d had over 550 people attend our 2019 Christmas events so our plan was to go even bigger in 2020. Back then, we all assumed coronavirus was like bird flu… it’ll never make it to the UK.
March came and everything changed. Like many churches, we bumbled our way into online services and finally found our feet in early April. Online engagement grew fast – an average of 40 new people attended each week, 50 people signed up for online Christianity Explored, and two people made professions of faith. It was exciting!
But after re-starting in-person gatherings in July, we realised our Christmas plans had to change. We had a choice: mourn the loss and hunker down until next year or adapt our thinking. We chose the latter and asked ‘How can we serve and reach our local community in new ways?’
Christmas dinner boxes
Clearly, Covid caused thousands of households in Greater Manchester to suffer: people lost family members, jobs, incomes, and hope - losses that would feel especially hard at Christmas. So, we decided that donating Christmas dinner boxes filled with all the trimmings – turkey crown, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sprouts, pigs in blankets, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, clementines, mince pies, custard, Christmas puddings and crackers – could bring some small comfort to families in need.
The father of one of our church members, owner of Chalkers Fresh Produce, kindly agreed to donate the fruit and vegetables and store the boxes before delivery. As each box cost £40, our hope was to raise £2,000 – enough for 50 boxes. But in faith, we prayed for double and, by God’s grace, two weeks of fundraising within City Church raised £5,000! Enough for 125 boxes!
125 families and households would receive a free Christmas dinner and with it, we prayed, hope in Jesus during a bleak time. Through connections with local headteachers and social workers, 175 of the most vulnerable families were referred to our application process. We carefully sifted through the applications to choose the families most in need. One headteacher commented, “Your consideration to ensure the most needy families receive help and support has really impressed us.”
Serving the vulnerable
Once the final list of recipients was approved, it was time to sort the boxes. In the week leading up to Christmas, ten enthusiastic church members - captained by one of our excellent interns - packed everything up (including flyers for our Christmas programme, activities for children, and a copy of JD Greear’s excellent Searching for Christmas), loaded up the cars, and knocked on 125 different doors across the city to hand deliver the boxes full of treats.
The response was overwhelming. Some families attended our Christmas Decoration Workshop and our Nativity and many sent us grateful emails. One person wrote, “We cannot thank you enough for the Christmas box of food. It really was truly amazing and certainly did make our Christmas very special indeed. By the generosity of your church this year we are humbled and again thank you from the bottom of our hearts. I will be sure to check out the online services you will be running.”
Another wrote, “The whole set up that you provided was impeccable and these such donations are truly a godsend (excuse the pun of words) and one of which me, my children, and my mother had the luxury of eating and enjoying throughout the festive period. Adding the extra touches with the Xmas crackers truly made it that extra special for us all during these difficult times and we all thank you immensely.”
Christmas 2020 was not what any of us planned. But we serve a sovereign God who is always at work. He opened doors of opportunity to serve the most vulnerable in our community and hold out the word of life to them. What an enormous privilege!
It truly is better to give than to receive.