… or, why the ministry of touch is about more than just hugging
Unsurprisingly, one of Hug Cullompton‘s main spiritual activities is hugging, a practice not without controversy. When our delegation went to the Town Council to ask for sponsorship, it was suggested that we might be a safeguarding risk! The community police officer simply pointed out that we weren’t forcing anyone to do anything. The Town Council voted overwhelmingly to support Hug Cullompton, offering to part-fund the tabards we wear to show that we are official ‘huggers’.
What might seem a simple act – hugging others – is reflective of a deep theology we share. You can read more about it here. Human beings are bodily creations. We are made in the image of a God who is love, who loves unconditionally, and who chose to take on bodily form in the person of Jesus. As Paul the Apostle writes in the Bible, human bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3.6), “treasure in clay jars” (2 Cor. 4.7) to be respected and cherished.
This emphasis on physicality has inspired us to serve in three key ways
1. Providing positive, loving, unthreatening physical contact – or hugging!
A group of us regularly adorn tabards and attend town events, offering anyone who wants one a hug. Those who don’t are offered a card containing the slogan, ‘a free hug, just for you’, which they can keep or pass on to someone else. Over the years we have become well known in the town, even sought out. One widowed lady told us that, since her husband had died a few years before, she had gone from being hugged every day to no physical contact at all. The hug we gave her that day was priceless!
2. Caring for human bodies
On Wellbeing Wednesdays we open our room in the High Street for anyone to pop in for a hug, a chat, cuppa, prayer or treatment. Our purpose is to offer wholeness – in body, mind and soul. We have a variety of clients and volunteers, of differing ages and backgrounds, and we welcome each individual in their own right, making no assumptions about why they might be there or what they are seeking or offering. Through the time given and complimentary treatments offered, our clients can begin to get to the root of what it is burdening them, whether it be emotional, spiritual or practical. While leaving medical issues to medical professionals, we can offer an alternative way of viewing the journey to wholeness, enabling people to find peace, joy and a sense of their own worth.
3. Ministry of presence in the community
One stated objective – described sometimes as ‘Hugging Cullompton’ – is to make a transformative difference in the town, Our pattern is to discern a need, find a way to address it then, when it is ready, give it autonomy, bless it, and let it go. Projects have included a community fair, festival venues, art exhibitions and, most recently, the establishment of A Culm Valley Men in Sheds organisation.
Our name, logo and activities are all the consequence of periods of shared prayer/reflection/meditation. We are touched by the ‘Divine Embrace’ of a God who is love, and can in turn reach out and embrace others. As it says in the Bible:
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4.11-12)