The Old Hills benefice includes the parishes of Powick, Guarlford & Madresfield with Newland and is located between Worcester and Malvern. A number of people from the benefice attended the first round of Open Conversations in 2019 and were inspired to look at ways that they might be able to bring more people into their churches.
Vicky Whitehouse, ALM Children and Youth Worker and member of St James, Callow End, explains:
“Many of the issues highlighted at the Open Conversations resonated with us. The number of people in our churches has been declining for many years and it tends to be the same people doing all the jobs. This prompted a conversation at church and as a result we decided to form a group to look at every aspect of our churches, ask questions and see how we might ensure we are healthy and sustainable for the future.”
The group was established with people representing each of our four churches, but also people from the villages who were not church members. They came together last summer and decided to call themselves the ‘Old Hill Caterpillars’!
“It was important that we had a balance of people representing both the church and the community and we wanted a name which would catch attention. Caterpillars slowly transform into butterflies and seemed appropriate for a group looking at the transformation of our churches!” Said Vicky.
Once the group had spent time getting to know each other, they went out to visit each of the churches and were asked to spend 15 – 20 minutes looking around and writing down everything they could see – what they liked and what they didn’t. From that a report was compiled to go to the PCCs.
“Some people had never been into the churches before, and we wanted everyone to look with fresh eyes – what were their first impressions of the church.” Continued Vicky. “It was important that everyone felt they could be honest so we could explore why people might not want to come into our church buildings and what we could change to make a difference.”
Vicar of the Old Hills parishes, Gary Crellin said: “Both PCCs in the benefice have agreed the concept and are overseeing the work. The Caterpillars have an ‘access all areas pass’ to look any facet of ministry in our churches and communities. This transformation approach will help us redefine the mission of our churches that are fragile as we come out of this phase of the pandemic.”
The group are now planning a series of events during 2022 to open the churches and reach out to the community. They have organised for the knitted bible to come to St Peter’s Church in Powick in April and are already receiving bookings from schools and community groups. In September they are planning a scarecrow festival across all four villages with a harvest songs of praise celebration at the local Maize Maze including dancing, music and food.
“We are also talking to schools, businesses, neighbours and friends about everything we’re doing and asking them what else they want from the churches. We have already started a churchyard working group and I’ve been contacted by volunteers from the community who are keen to help out! It’s been absolutely brilliant for us all to work together - we all knew we had to do something. Our service pattern changed due to Covid, but we won’t be going back to how it was before – instead we now attend another church if our own church doesn’t have a service. We are one benefice with one vicar and Old Hills Caterpillars is one group of people – we are definitely proving that when you come together you can do more.” Said Vicky.