St Faith's Church, Walsworth, Hitchin
An Anglican and Methodist Local Ecumenical Partnership
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St Faith's Painting Weekend, May 2009

“If you really want to reach out to people when they come through the doors it's essential the church looks the part”. I can hear myself saying this at an Action Group meeting and thinking I know what’s coming next!  “Right, good, so Tim, will you project manage the redecoration of the church?” said Charmaine – and yep I was right. What is it they say – never volunteer for anything?

So it started and quite a big job we were undertaking too. As well as painting a church with 40 feet walls, we were (perhaps rather ambitiously) also going to do the entrance, corridor and the side rooms at the same time. And of course there were all of the Health & Safety issues to think through.  We planned the May bank holiday weekend, put an item in the bulletin and requested helpers from the congregation. One huge bonus was that June Andrews was able to acquire a job lot of paint. 

A tower was borrowed from our friends at Christchurch and we started work at 9am on the Friday.  A number of people had donated brushes, rollers, sheets etc and I had already been to my favourite store (Wilkinson’s) for filler, gloss paint, white spirit, stain – you name it I was buying it!

We split up into smaller groups, some washing walls and paintwork, others sanding and painting. I helped to build the tower which was easy but when you’re actually at the top it’s a different matter. One inch of movement at the bottom feels like ten inches aloft!  They say these things are safe but let me tell you when you’re up there you can have some serious doubts. 

The hymn ‘Nearer my God to me’ was never more appropriate at this time.  However we pushed on and put some easy listening music through the sound system to help us on our way.

During the morning there were numerous cups of tea and coffee and about 12.30 we stopped for lunch.  I had boldly announced that those who worked a full day would have a free lunch and had spoken with Doreen Peacock who was going to sort this out.  I envisaged a quick bite of a bacon sandwich but when I saw what she had prepared….well, it was quite superb.  In the centre of the room was a table laden with sausage, bacon, cheese and egg sandwiches, crisps, fruit, scones and drinks.  We sat round the table and it went very quiet – at first, then people started nattering.  The food was brilliant and Doreen carried on like this for the four days. She also made scones and cakes for morning and afternoon teas as well as the communal lunches.  We mustn’t forget Joan who made some delicious strawberry mini cakes.

There was a small but able band of helpers, mostly congregation members.  Some worked all four days, some just for a day, others just a morning – but they all helped. There were older people, young people, some experienced and some not.  Midway I had a few moments of doubt that we would ever finish but Charmaine encouraged us and we got on with it! At least three people who helped were not even members of the congregation. Astonishingly one man passing by the church saw what was happening and offered his help. He went home and got changed and was soon ‘paint brush in hand’.

So come 5 o’clock on the Monday when we had cleared away everything we had done it.  It didn’t seem possible but we had and it looked brilliant.  For me though the end result was not actually the most important thing.  It was the journey.  There was a real sense of fellowship and belonging.  When you’re up a ladder or painting a wall with someone you talk about all sorts and really get to know them in a way you wouldn’t normally. The lunches typified this and were also a time of connection and togetherness.  It's times like this that you can learn a lot about other people and perhaps more importantly about yourself.

I estimated that it would have cost about £6,000 to have the church painted for us and it actually cost us £155.  This was mainly due to the generosity of many in donating equipment, paint, other materials and of course their personal time.  There are too many to mention everyone by name but they know who they are.  I would like to single out two though:  John, who rearranged his weekend to help and climbed up to the highest parts of the church, and brush in hand reached the parts that others couldn’t reach – he was brilliant and of course Doreen Peacock for working like a Trojan in the kitchen sustaining us with food fit for royalty – an absolute star.

So now we have a church that looks lovely and we can be justly proud for the effort we put in and the results we achieved together. If you are not a regular worshipper at St Faith's why don’t you come and join us one Sunday and have a look for yourself. 

Same place, ten years time anyone?

Tim Mitchell

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