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Even the darkest cloud can have a silver lining. More than seven years ago Ron Farrington, senior pastor at Crossgate Church in Preston and one of HOPE's practitioners, felt God give him a vision to create a series of mini-churches, or hubs, to include every member of the church and spread blessing across the city. The idea was tested but stayed on the backburner. But Coronavirus has forced the church into urgent action. Now Crossgate has established a network of 17 hubs throughout Preston, each of up to 50 church members. As a result hundreds of lives are being touched every week and the church’s impact is growing across the community.

'It's an amazing example of the local church serving its community, making Jesus known through words and action,' says Roy Crowne, HOPE Together's executive director, who has worked with Ron over many years.

Crossgate, which has around 750 members, is providing spiritual and practical help to all of its church family. Every hub has a team of telephone volunteers who make sure every single church member is called at least once a week.

‘Whether you have got it together, or you have got a big family, or you are in isolation or on your own, you will still be spoken to,’ Ron explains.

Hubs are also providing food for vulnerable, isolated and lonely church members. Every week Crossgate produces more than 200 meals in its church kitchen. These are distributed via the hubs to those in need. ‘We are building this up,’ says Ron. ‘Three weeks ago we started with 20 meals to trial it; we did 80 the following week. The need will grow, so the number of meals will grow.’ An encouraging card is sent out with every meal with a verse of scripture and an assurance that the recipient is being prayed for.

Crossgate is also thinking about people’s mental wellbeing. In the past week, 2,000 flowering plants have been delivered not just to people in the church but also to their friends and neighbours. Plants were also taken to most of the care homes in Preston. ‘The idea is to bring joy and a sense of being cared for,’ Ron says. With each plant was an Easter card and a promise of prayer. This week Crossgate will give flowering plants and a ‘thank you’ card to all staff at Preston’s prison.

The hub initiative began by connecting just with church members but is now being extended to include the agencies linked to Crossgate. One example is the 30-plus clients of Christians Against Poverty, which has a base at the church. Crossgate also runs charity shop and a scheme which provides furniture and carpets and also offers decorating and gardening for those in need. Both have regular clients which the church is supporting through the hubs.

The hub system will enable Crossgate to team up with the local council to provide more meals, food parcels and other help to the wider community. ‘More will be added over the coming weeks,’ Ron says,  ‘but we had to get the structure right first. It’s not like running a 100 yard sprint, this is marathon.’ Hubs will soon be delivering food parcels. In time they may be providing food hampers of essential items for the most needy homes.

And Ron is adamant the hubs are here to stay. ‘This is forever – this was a vision for the long term for the church… Hubs were the only way we could reach the whole of Preston. We couldn’t run it from one building. It had to be run locally. Coronavirus has forced this to happen and it’s great because people are getting to know their neighbours, people down their street… it’s like 17 mini-churches.’

Ron Farrington concedes he has been so busy with activities at Crossgate that there has been little time for working with other churches in Preston. But one inter-church initiative has really exploded into life. Through Churches Together in Preston, Crossgate began a regular prayer meeting in early 2019. Typically about 30 people attended. Since the lockdown, the meeting has been livestreamed. The result has been dramatic.  ‘We get around 200 hits now,’ says Ron. ‘So probably about 300 people are now praying for the city every week which is fantastic – it’s very exciting.’

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