Everyday charity and community projects were celebrated at a prayer breakfast for West Sussex this week.
The annual networking event in Wiston House, near Steyning, unites members of the emergency services, charities, councils and churches to renew their commitment to caring for their county and offer prayers for everyone who lives here.
Keynote speaker for this year was Matt Bird, who founded the Cinnamon Network to facilitate community support projects across the country through churches.
At the gathering, Matt explained that his motivation had come from realising his Christian faith should be outwardly focussed on creating community as God intended it.
“Jesus said ‘you are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden, no one lights a candle and puts it under a bowl, instead they put it on a stand so that the whole room can be lit up’,” he said.
“Our faith is a public faith, it’s a visible faith, it’s a working faith.”
The network provides churches with micro loans to set up projects such as foodbanks and street pastoring schemes, based on successful models from other churches.
So far, 26 churches in Sussex have benefitted from the network, including Upper Beeding Baptist Church, which has set up a volunteer group to befriend elderly and isolated people.
Other projects being launched include providing better support for those with mental health issues.
Matt said: “Every person has a role and has a part to contribute, not just to consume our culture, but to give back to our communities.
“I’m so encouraged to see you all here this morning as an expression of participative society, ready to make more and more contribution for good.”
A meeting between Matt and chief superintendant Martin Walker in 2014 led to a partnership between Sussex Police and Cinnamon Network churches that is now being copied by police forces across the country.
The idea is that as the church fills practical needs in terms of social support, crime can be prevented and reduced.
Chief constable of Sussex Police Giles York said the police were ‘delighted’ to be working with the Cinnamon Network.
“It really mobilises communities to take responsibility for themselves and each other and keep people safe and well,” he said.
“Hearing Matt Bird speak this morning reminds me of what a strong force for good he is that takes these ideas and so improves people’s lives and he’s already touched so many people’s lives for the better.”
Giving thanks was also a key theme in the morning.
High Sheriff of Sussex Mark Spofforth opened the event by reminding all those present to ‘give thanks for our blessings and consider our responsibility to help others’.
As an expression of prayer and thanksgiving, guests were invited to write cards on a map of West Sussex with what they would like to see happen in their communities, or the groups that they felt could be reached better.
Prayers ranged from ‘giving young people in West Sussex a full and rounded life’ to thoughts for the homeless and marginalised, thanks for creative projects and hopes that those with family members in the armed forces would see them come home safely.
Communal prayers were also lead on behalf of those in authority across the county.
Owner of Wiston House, Pip Goring, said the prayer breakfast was part of creating ‘one big family’ working together to help others.
“This is using this as a platform for going out to the wider community and sharing ideas and praying together, however you pray,” she said.
The Wiston Estate is also home to several Christian events, including the Big Church Day Out on Saturday and Sunday May 27-28 this year.
An event for those of faith or none across all ages, the festival sees hundreds of people camp or come for a day to enjoy music, games and guest speakers. For details go to bigchurchdayout.com