As I travel the world and introduce myself as coming from Wimbledon England, I know this conjures up images in people’s minds. Many of these pictures are of tennis, pimms and strawberries and cream but that is only part of the story.
Like many communities around the world, Wimbledon suffers an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. For example in the UK there are around 500,000 elderly people who spend Christmas Day alone each year.
Over the holidays I was inspired to discover that one of Wimbledon’s pubs The Alex (Alexandra) opened its doors to people who were alone on Christmas Day. This was the fifth year they had served Christmas lunch and drinks for free. The entry requirement is simple, if you are alone you are welcome.
This yearly event has made the proprietors of The Alex, Mick and Sarah Dore realise there is an ongoing need to combat loneliness throughout the year. They now run ‘Meet up Monday’ every week inviting people who feel on their own in the community to join them for lunch and meet with others.
There is now a network of hospitality businesses around the country who are following the example of The Alex. Whether a pub, cafe or restaurant they are becoming more community focused and reaching out to show care to people who feel alone.
The Alex community Christmas and ‘Meet Up Monday’ are inspiring stories about how businesses are becoming community minded and caring for people. In a similar way Cinnamon Network International inspires local churches with stories and models of how they can become more community focused and love people who are finding life tough.
Cinnamon helps local churches to understand what the most pressing unmet needs are in the community. Churches are then offered a menu of ‘tried and tested’ community projects to choose from rather than having to ‘reinvent the wheel’.
In the UK there is now a menu of 30 church-led community projects that have been replicated by 3,000 local churches and in Australia a menu of 6 church-led community projects replicated by 900 local churches. There are now countries around the world developing a Cinnamon Network to inspire local churches to serve their communities and providing them with resources to do so.
In the past it has been said that the local church is the only organisation in the world that exists for non-members. Sadly in some communities that reputation is being eroded and challenged.
Local pubs and other organisations are sometimes doing more for the community than the local church. Sometimes local churches are more like private clubs providing benefits to members rather than agents of change and transformation.
Together let’s help more local churches around the world become more community focused to serve others rather than itself – a little like The Alex pub in Wimbledon.
By Matt Bird
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