One evening in September 2011, six women met in a room in Cullompton High Street. All of them had either been personally invited or responded to a poster in a shop window. The meeting was to explore the possibility of starting a spiritual support group “for the world, for the town, for you.”
We began by introducing ourselves and saying why we were there. All of us were interested in mutual spiritual support; but just as importantly, we wanted to be part of a group that existed for the benefit of others.
After the introductions, we held a time of silence. Participants were invited to pray, reflect, meditate, practice mindfulness – whatever was their habit. It lasted about ten minutes; then afterwards we shared what we had discerned. We had a flip-chart, on which the aspirations of the group were recorded. The images we shared after the prayer time were also drawn on the paper. It quickly became clear that Cullompton was to be focus of our energy: to bring about transformation through prayer and action.
Over the months we continued to fill our flip-chart paper with words, images, pictures and diagrams. The image which emerged became the basis for our name (Hug Cullompton), our logo (a hug heart) and our mission (one-off projects through which we could serve and touch the hearts of others).
As an organisation our habit has been to focus on one key activity at a time: a community fair, an art exhibition for local artists, a venue for the new food and drink festival, a Men in Sheds initiative. Once a project gains momentum and a life of its own, we will bless it and let it go. Our one exception is ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’. Each week we throw open our room, offering refreshments, hugs, friendship, holistic treatments and prayer. In addition to our community projects, each of us has our own personal discipleship, serving the town in different ways.
One of the Hug Cullompton members likens our way of working to the ‘imago’ process through which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The caterpillar enters the pupa, a place of transformation, enabling it to spread its wings and leave the pupa behind. The butterfly then blesses the area which first facilitated its existence, pollenating the plants on which it once fed as a caterpillar.
‘Imaginality’ provides a good analogy for this pioneering story. I’m not saying Hug Cullompton should take all the credit – everything we do is in partnership with others, and there is a host of amazing people doing incredible things for the sake of the town – and anyway, we are simply joining in with what God is already doing in our community. But I do think that the way we function is worth sharing, as it is such a positive example of transformational activity.
I have learned so much from my fellow huggers: about grace, patience, dignity, generosity, inclusion and most of all, love. We certainly wouldn’t qualify to become an official congregation of a traditional church denomination, nor would we want to. But if ‘church’ is about being called out to be Christ in the world – about living in relationship with others and sharing the love of God – then Hug Cullompton has it sussed.
For more about how Hug Cullompton has influenced my ecclesiology, click here.