Bringing Christian values to life with The Big Lunch
Community is at the heart of everything that City Church Belfast does. It's home to a foodbank, shared community space, cafe and gardens, and also runs weekly toddler and debt advice sessions to support its local residents.
Where it all began
City Church Belfast first held a Big Lunch in 2014 and it was such a success that they have organised and supported several events since, with a few years off during the pandemic.
Over 250 people attended that first Big Lunch and it marked a turning point for the local community, as Church Co-Leader Joan Vaughan explains:
“Our first Big Lunch was fantastic as it gave people a chance to chat and share the things they have in common. There have been a number of cultural changes here since and we’ve seen a big increase in the number of asylum seekers in the area – as well as a rise in anti-social behaviour – both of which have made us think now is the time to get back involved. It will be great to bring different groups together to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate our many cultures with The Big Lunch this year.”
Celebrating World Refugee Week during The Month of Community
City Church Belfast organised its third Big Lunch event on Sunday 19 June 2022, to coincide with World Refugee Week and be part of the Month of Community. Working with the local Romanian, Ethiopian, Brazilian and Eritrean communities and The Belfast Friendship Club, the team helped to organise an International Food Festival – to celebrate Belfast’s diversity and welcome newcomers to the area.
The Belfast Friendship Club (BFC) is a weekly heartbeat in the city, that has been welcoming newcomers and locals alike, into its warm and thriving environment since 2009.
Their simple agenda is to host a safe, inclusive and impartial space so that everyone can relax, be themselves and form meaningful connections with one another – irrespective of all the usual barriers that separate people. BFC helped to organise a Big Lunch in 2017, as part of the Great Get Together, as coordinator Stephanie Mitchell explains:
“The aim of the event in 2017 was to bring together our diverse communities and celebrate what we have in common. We served international food platters and 350 people came along. It was a joyous day of togetherness.”
City Church Belfast has been granted its road closure by Belfast City Council – one of the many Platinum Councils supporting The Big Jubilee Lunch with free closures for street parties in 2022. The event once again took place in the street to the side of the church, with trestle tables down the middle and communities encouraged to bring a traditional cultural dish of their choice.
The aim of the event in 2017 was to bring together our diverse communities and celebrate what we have in common. We served international food platters and 350 people came along. It was a joyous day of togetherness.Stephanie Mitchell
Bringing Christian values to life
The Big Lunch chimes with many of the church’s core values of welcoming a stranger and encouraging kindness, compassion and joy. It is, after all, for everyone. The first 14 years of The Big Lunch have shown its power to bring people of different backgrounds together, help combat loneliness and initiate new friendships.
Many churches and Big Lunchers also use their events to fundraise for local causes, giving it a charitable dimension too. In 2021 a massive £7.4 million was raised at Big Lunch events, most of that staying with local charities and causes – helping those that need it most.
Strengthening community spirit, post-pandemic
The local community has, like many, been greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, making the 2022 Big Lunch all the more needed. Church Co-Leader Joan Vaughan said:
“The church has been supporting the more vulnerable in community, but there’s lots of fear around. People have been missing social contact and there have been some issues with social anxiety as the restrictions have lifted and we’ve started mixing again. Our approach has been to invite people to do something small to start with as it’s only with baby steps that we’ll start to re-build our strength and feel comfortable socialising again.”
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