Hope at King's
Our church buildings display our priorities. Our floor plans (even the square footage we allocate to certain ministries) can speak loudly about what we believe the gospel to be all about.
In the early 1990s, King’s Church in Hastings was able to purchase ‘Boundaries’, a former indoor cricket centre. Cricket nets then divided the large space and in the early days ‘sports nights’ were part of the regular pattern of church life, with members and guests enjoying evenings of badminton, five-a-side football and basketball. However, after a time, the sports activities reduced and there were several years when, aside from the office uses and smaller church meetings, the large building was often little used through the week, other than Sundays.
An evolving space
Although the building (re-named the Hastings Centre) had been altered before, in the last twelve years or so it has undergone more significant physical changes. Church members have given faithfully to various projects transforming the building and the surrounding land to better suit not only the needs of the church but also the community around. It is now unusual if the building is not open seven days a week and the church operates many of the activities, including the coffee shop, as a “social enterprise”, where any profits are invested back into projects (both the church’s and those run by others) that serve the local community. The car park has been much enlarged for use not just by visitors to the building, but also as a real blessing to those making hospital visits – it is considerably cheaper than the hospital car park opposite. Some spaces are even hired for months at a time by the hospital as an overflow for their staff.
In recent months the building has hosted a coronavirus vaccination centre, and been used as a polling station, and it continues to serve as an NHS blood donation point. The public coffee shop with an outside patio and play area – closed through lockdown – has now reopened and ballet classes have restarted. Sunday worship is also back.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with last year’s lockdowns, the building was unusually quiet. The coffee shop had to close, in-person church gatherings at the building stopped, church staff began working from home, and room hires to the public ceased.
Sunday worship and preaching went online and church prayer meetings, small groups (and then subsequently Alpha courses) were run successfully on Zoom. However, the Hastings Centre building was not quiet for long. From Monday to Friday there was a different bustle of activity as the foodbank – by this time seven years old – became busier than ever; a lifeline for those hardest hit by the economic impact of the coronavirus. New volunteers also got involved, filling in for regular servers who were shielding or vulnerable. As the measures required to stem the pandemic unfolded, the foodbank switched between collection and delivery, adopting a hybrid model between lockdowns.
If you had walked into the building during the first lockdown, in particular, you would have seen carrier bags of food set out across many of the rooms in the building. In the deserted coffee shop, moses baskets waited to be picked up by midwives and community health visitors and given to pregnant women in desperate need of one of the church’s other projects, Baby Basics.
By the providence of God, just months before coronavirus hit the church had built a warehouse within the Hastings Centre. Little did the church know at the time, but reducing the size of the main auditorium (though still capable of seating over 500 people) and giving the remaining space over to a social action warehouse, would be seen as the timely provision of God for us, working ahead of the pandemic to prepare us. Like Joseph planning for the famine in Egypt, the storehouses were full and accessible when the first lockdown was announced. Just weeks before lockdown, foodbank staff had still been going back and forth between the off-site warehouse 3 miles away, to bring the stored food to the distribution centre at the Hastings Centre. Looking back now, it is impossible to imagine the Foodbank being able to have met the increased demand without God’s timely storage provision on-site.
Building the warehouse on site was just phase 1 of the church’s plans. King’s Church has a three-pronged vision statement: making disciples, going on mission, and caring for the poor. For the church, care for those in poverty is never divorced from the other two aspects of the vision, but changing the building to provide space for active mercy ministries is a physical sign that confirms the importance of this strand of gospel witness. The second key part of the recent building project therefore was changing a large corner of the building to become a ‘community action hub’ – a dedicated space within the Hastings Centre, not just for the social action projects, but for any external agencies who are supporting people in poverty to use too.
Named ‘Hope at King’s’, the vision is for space where people facing crisis situations can be helped at their time of need; but more than that, it is to be a place where people are lifted out of poverty too. That’s why it’s called Hope at King’s, and why the rooms within it have been named the Mercy Room and the Grace Room. The church wants people – especially those trapped in poverty, but also those helping them – to find hope, mercy and grace here.
If your church is fortunate enough to own a building, could you consider how its architecture and floor plans witness to God’s heart for the vulnerable and marginalised in your community?
This post was written by Natalie Williams and originally appeared on the Newground blog (it was adapted for the Jubilee+ blog by Richard Wilson)