Christmas comes early in Caerphilly

Steve Harris explains how his church spread a bit of festive cheer – even though it was the height of summer.

What do you expect to see on a local housing estate in the summer – ice cream vans, kids riding bikes? Probably not Santa on his sleigh.

Yet that’s what kids on the Lansbury estate in Caerphilly were treated to as Connect Life Church sought out inventive ways to link with the community during lockdown.

“When Covid shut everything down we had daily podcasts, video testimonies, an online Alpha and a food bank, but we were conscious we weren’t doing much in the local area,” says Steve Harris, who took responsibility as pastor of the 100-strong church in January 2020.

“We wondered if there was anything we could do that was outdoors where we’d be able to build more connections.”

Steve had done plenty of community work at his previous church, City Church in Cardiff, and he was already experienced in working in tough areas.

So in the summer of 2020, Connect Life partnered with Message Wales to work on the deprived Lansbury estate.

An online youth programme between the two helped relationships in the community take root as locals became familiar with the sight of church members in their area.

Then the team decided to make Christmas come early.

“It was a bit crazy, but we had Santa on his sleigh with Beach Boys songs playing. It meant we could go to every street, play a couple of songs and have some fun,” says Steve.

“We could also tell people who we were, why we were there and invite them to our online programme.”

So successful was Santa’s summer sleigh ride that Connect Life partnered with Message Wales again when Christmas came around for real.

“By this time, people knew us a bit so we did another sleigh run, this time with carol singing and a gospel message.

On each street we went down, we visited every child who wanted to come out and created a Christmas scene with 10 Christmas trees and a lights-on ceremony and some carols. Everybody enjoyed it!”

As another pandemic summer rolled round, Steve and Message Wales decided to think bigger and invited neighbouring churches to partner with them to host more community events.

A Catholic priest was especially helpful, making contact with a Catholic primary school which agreed to host a family fun day and service on its field during the summer holidays.

“We had 100 people come to the Sunday service and 500 to the Monday afternoon family fun day. It was really exciting and we made some good links within the community as a result,” says Steve.

As this local partnership flourished, another December sleigh run followed, along with a Christmas programme that featured the band Brightline visiting from The Message in Manchester and an outdoor carol concert.

Just as Connect Life has focused on building community links in partnership with other organisations, however, it has also looked to grow relationships through its own in-house activities.

The church launched a kids’ club in October as a follow-on from the summer programme which was advertised by a number of schools. Steve has been thrilled with its success.

“We have a number of kids coming from the Catholic school, even though it’s two miles from us. We’ve got kids from six schools and have 20 to 25 on average coming a week, only one of whom was from our church.”

As Connect Life’s family connections grew, the church decided to employ a part-time children’s and family worker last November.

This meant the blossoming kids club was able to expand in January, dividing into two with a group for five to ten-year-olds, and the new club focusing on up to 13-year-olds.

In April Connect Life was able to partner with Message Wales and five other churches to put on a joint event with 55 young people gathering together. Called the Wild Tour, nine of Connect Life’s brand new 10-13’s group attended.

Hot on its heels was a mother and toddlers group, Jelly Beans, which opened in March and is already attracting 15 families, only one of which, again, was from the church.

“This work is important because we need to invest in families and children if we’re going to see the church growing and moving forward,” says Steve.

The church has also begun to work with homeless people in the area. Plans were afoot to begin a homeless outreach before Covid hit, so when restrictions were lifted it organised a meal for homeless people and relationships began to form.

“One guy who came to our meal came back to have a chat and I gave him a couple of Christian books and invited him to Alpha.

“He’s from a non-Christian background but was really open and wanted to know more, so it’s been really exciting to see what God is doing in his life.”

And as Connect Life’s community work has expanded in different ways, Steve is pleased that church members have become eager to be involved too.

“Outreach was a bit of a minority sport before, but as momentum has grown more people are wanting to have a go,” he says.

“It’s really fun to see people get excited about helping with different things and enjoying the atmosphere of community outreach.”

First published in the June 2022 issue of Direction, Elim’s monthly magazine. Subscribe now to get Direction delivered to your home.

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