Sister Jane Emson of the Church Army is a Multiply Minister based at Thorntree and Brambles Farm, Middlesbrough, and will be ordained Deacon at the end of September this year. In August she wrote about her first few months in post, working towards building a new worshipping community in one of the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods:

“I began by going out with Fr Terry Leathley and his Coffee van three mornings a week. It’s where we park the van in different parts of the estates and give out free coffee to people in the local community, with a stamp on the side saying ‘Given with God’s love’.

“In doing this it not only enabled me to be present but also form some good relationships. One in particular was with a guy called L who had recently come out of prison where he told me he had spent most of his life and he told me that he gave his life to Jesus just a few weeks before his release. He said that he would like to help me set up a church and that he wanted to share his faith.

“After various meetings I managed to get the keys to a building in Brambles Farm and opened as a church for about a month or so. We did get a few families attend. However due to various reasons I didn’t feel that it was the right time.

“I got involved with local groups, one being Feast of Fun which provide free activities/meals during the school holidays for local families and gives people the chance to see friends, have a healthy meal, have a day out, family time, etc. I started to build relationships and shortly after set up a Facebook page and very quickly started to get lots of ‘friend requests’.

“I also started to build up good working partnerships and was handed keys to three local community centres and was told I could use them free of charge to set up what groups I felt appropriate, even a church. I was also asked to be one of the trustees at one of the centres.

“One of the centres already had a youth club called Tommy’s. However just a few weeks after my arrival the club closed due to lack of attendance. About a month after this I was asked by the Area Dean if I could start it back up, which I did in November after lots of prayer, a great team and a few changes. We ended up with 142 young people on the register in just a few months.

“It was amazing. I would have never thought that I would have seen so many young people attend in such as short space of time. Not only did I get to meet the young people but also their parents.

“At Christmas time I helped in a local cafĂ© and served 24 Christmas dinners to those who were alone, but mainly to the homeless.

“I have set up groups such as Santa’s Grotto, after school club, Tommy’s and various other one-off events. We set up Family Fun church in January which runs monthly.

“In March we did an afternoon tea event for ‘Come and See’. We invited Ace from Gladiators who shared his story. The Bishop of Whitby and Archbishop John Sentamu and lots of families from the estate came.”

So how has COVID-19 affected Jane’s ministry?

“Lockdown has been really busy. We have been taking up to 60 food parcels out every other week. And in the school summer holidays this has increased to 72 families which means we’re supporting more than 260 people.

“The food has been donated from Churches outside the parish and also from Together Middlesbrough and Cleveland who have so generously gave us funding. I not only bought dried food but also fresh fruit and veg and meat which included recipes to cook and online Zoom sessions to help.

“We have given out activity packs for over 120 children and run events on Facebook. Activity packs included creating a COVID-19 time-capsule and an Easter colouring competition.

“I have people from the estate sending me ‘friend requests’ on Facebook every other day and messages asking for support. I have formed really good links with our local councillor who helps deliver the parcels and an organisation called Kids’ Kabin who work with 7-11 year olds and do a lot of outdoor activities. They also help with the groups and the distribution of food/activities.

“Recently a local businessman donated money to help feed the children in Middlesbrough during the school holidays. Middlesbrough Football Club chefs cook hot meals and voluntarily deliver them to organisations to distribute them. I am working with them and we are taking 100 meals out a week plus food parcels.

“In September we are arranging a picnic in the park get together for prayer.

“I feel really blessed that God called me in Middlesbrough. I must admit when I first came, I did question myself and God if I had done the right thing. But as time when on it was clear that I had. It’s such a privilege and honour to be able to serve God in Brambles Farm Thorntree and I am so excited to see what he is going to do next in and through me.”