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Story 72 - Pioneering in Kidderminster

Rev. Marie Holmes
Written by Suzie Abramian in conversation with Rev. Marie Holmes - 20/01/2021

Marie Holmes, a Newly Accredited Minister with a part-time unpaid appointment in Far Forest Baptist Church outside Kidderminster, shares about the pioneering journey of mission on her doorstep in the Comberton Estate in Kidderminster.
With experience of planting a thriving church out of missional communities in Portsmouth, Marie thought that when she sensed God calling her back to her hometown of Kidderminster 2 years ago, in fact to the very estate she grew up on, she would naturally be returning to plant a church. However, Marie shares that after making the bold step to return with no employment or funding in place, God clearly said it was not the right time to plant but instead to wait. Marie chose to take a 6-month sabbatical, during which time she says she realised how necessary that was for her personally and for her ministry moving forward. She also says she felt God directing her during that time, leading her to make connections with the Baptist Church in the rural village of Far forest who invited her to be their part-time minister in an unpaid position.
The contrasting area of the Comberton and Offmore estate where Marie and her family live could be described as extensively deprived with large issues connecting to poverty, particularly connected with young people. Marie says that in moving back to a place she knows so well, ‘it gave us a ground that we’d already laid the foundations for,’ which undoubtedly explains her passion to be fully integrated within the community.
This integration has particularly led to close participation with the local Anglican church, which is the only other church presence on the estate. From attending their regular cafe mornings, Marie started to see the huge issues surrounding mental health in the area.
As well as her Baptist training, including a master's degree focused on pioneering from a women’s perspective, Marie also has previous training in mental health as a trained therapist, working for the charity Mind, as well as training from the charity Papyrus who work in suicide prevention. After she moved back, some of these previous skills became known in the community and Marie was soon asked to help develop support to those who are struggling with issues around mental health and whose needs are not being met by local services.
After listening to the needs of the area, Marie and a team of helpers, began by putting on a mental health and wellbeing provision for parents and young people. Initially started as an outdoor, drop-in project, running weekly after school times, because as Marie says, ‘…when you’re outside, people can pass through and it’s almost as if there’s an excuse to engage with you,’ and in a place that’s central on the estate, near to the schools for parents or for the young people from the secondary to walk past. Meeting between 30-40 people there every week, Marie could see the scale of the need in the area for this provision when the coronavirus pandemic halted the project after only a few months of running.
However, Marie notes that they had run long enough to have established relationships and that despite the restrictions they still wanted to see what how they could still engage with local people about mental health and offer support. Along with her daughter, who has studied around families and autism, Marie set about creating mental health care packages. These packs not only have information leaflets, support numbers and wellbeing checklists but also tangible gifts such as telephone number wristbands, mindfulness colouring books & crayons, stress balls, acupressure rings, hygiene supplies, sanitary products for girls and herbal tea bags. Since the first lockdown in March 2020 Marie estimates she and a team of helpers have given away over 100 of these packs, with packages aimed accordingly for parents or for children with requests coming in from individuals as well as referrals from others.
Marie’s flexibility and passion to enter fully into the life of her community has also resulted in other missional opportunities such as her appointment as the Mayor’s chaplain, stemming in part from relationships developed through her involvement in a local women’s mental health group. And other initiatives have come about throughout this time as well, especially connecting with issues around food poverty which has resulted in large scale projects feeding families throughout the October half-term as well as a Christmas meal for over 400 people.
Recognised by her local community as a church minister it is interesting to see how Marie’s place, embedded naturally within her community in Comberton is also having further missional effects. After the first calling not to start by planting a church, a worshipping community has, perhaps more naturally, started to form. This community, called the Mosaic Gathering, has so far only been able to meet on zoom but has already received an offer from a local Methodist church to use their building to gather in after the pandemic. It has also begun with the intention to become an inclusive church, a description which Marie clarifies by saying, ‘it should be a liminal space where all are welcome regardless of who you are… it’s not an inclusive church because of one aspect….it’s being human beings together and discovering who God is in the midst of that.’
Marie unequivocally asserts that these invitations and opportunities have been brought about by God but it also arguably because of the non-traditional approaches to mission and church planting she has taken as well, which have allowed God’s mission to flourish in this context.
As a woman, not only in Baptist ministry but also pioneering, Marie ends by noting that a certain amount of resilience has also been necessary to do what she does, which she says she is not sure is for everyone. However, if you are sure about what God is calling you to do then she encourages you not to allow anyone to say you are not good enough to do it
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