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Churches work together to offer community support through FISH groups

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This article has been written by Gemma Eglington, the FISH co-ordinator at St Mark’s Church in Oulton Broad. 

“We’ve been doing this across the town for over 7 years and we love partnering with all the other churches and joining together to bless our town.”

How long have you been running FISH?

We have been running FISH since February 2021 with in the Oulton Team Ministry and started at St Marks Church as a take away provision, providing each family with a take away meal and craft. In May 2022 we opened our door to welcome families to eat in at St Marks Church. Some of us within the children’s team felt a call from God after trailing our own project based on the same ethos and set up just before Covid hit. We felt that we could help to strengthen the team across the town and offer our venue to cover a wider area of the town.

How many families do you support?

We started with around 4 or 5 and have increased to welcoming 12 families, this is due to moving our venue to our sister church St Luke’s on Homefield Avenue. And because we offer a dual provision; for families to eat in and for those families to take away.

What partnership links did you make to get this up and running?

There are 9 different venues ensuring that a provision is there every day across the town. 8 different churches help FISH happen and 1 non church venue. We are supported by our local Council in Lowestoft with funding which has been a recent development since the Pandemic and also to help with the cost of living crisis.

When St Marks came on board, lots of faithful people within the church gifted to the project starting up.

We have handed out over 500 meals give or take a few since we started back in February 2021 and we see our cap of 40 gradually increasing each time we open our doors. Currently as I write this article, our numbers have gone from 48 meals in February half term to 53 for Holy Week.

The relationships we are building are going from strength to strength and through FISH we are able to introduce these families to a greater Communion with God. We are seeing families wanting to know more and starting to move from people on the outside of the church to the fringe of church and recently committing themselves to the current Alpha Course we are running and attending the once-a-month Café Style Church called The Sunday Mix.

The venues work and coordinate together, so if there’s a family in need and coming another day, we talk to the other venues to give them the heads-up to support the family as best we can, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

We pray on our what’s app group for each session and for families through the academic term time – not just as the sessions happen.

We theme all the crafts across the venues which we base on the bible or around the church calendar.

We also try to offer our families across the town a blessing each week across the town. This could be something like a local business providing a cake and drink for all the family, discounted tickets for local attractions or when we first started up thorough local links we were able to provide each family with a slow cooker. On top of this, some venues create their own links with local business and supermarkets to offer our families with food hampers with food which has been donated by them in order to reduce their waste.

“I am so grateful to everyone who serves, gives and loves FISH and it’s family” Laura Porter, Oulton Broad co-ordinator within Lowestoft.

How could other churches start it up?

The most important thing is to pray and surround the project or service with Gods love. Decide on the type of venue you wish to offer. But my key advice would be to start off small. Create links with local businesses and approach local charites and councils to see if funding is available and develop it from there and give it time. It has taken us over two years to get to the size of our project.  Visit churches which already are up and running with FISH.

As FISH Coordinator within the Oulton Broad team Ministry, I see it an honour to be able to serve the people that enter in to our Church and feel very humble to be able to be part of a service which allows us to get alongside these families by serving God in this way, and it would not be possible to do this without the wonderful team I have supporting me through helping with cooking meeting and creating, washing up and even delivering the meals to those who cannot get to our venues.

FISH always reminds me of John 6:1-14 where Jesus wanted the disciples to feed a large crowd. They said it would be impossible. But, a boy with them had five small fish. Jesus takes this gift, thanks God for it, and uses it to fed over 5,000 people, with leftsovers to spare.