Transforming Cullompton with a Hug

Pioneer Minister, the Revd Janet Sutton Webb tells how an emerging community’s discipleship has proved transformative in a mid-Devon market town.


‘Can we, in the United Reformed Church, do Church differently, in ways which are true to our Reformed tradition and appropriate for today’s context?’ That was the question I was tasked with answering when I first came to Cullompton in mid-Devon.

I had been appointed as the United Reformed Church’s first Pioneer Minister in September 2009 to work in the South Western synod and I moved to Cullompton in July the following year.

Hug Cullompton came about through a group which began to meet in 2011. Since then it has grown and developed its own set of spiritual practices, as well as demonstrating a high level of commitment to serving the community. Each member contributes what they can and, in return, is equally valued for their skills and talents – whatever they may be.

Each participant’s call to discipleship is outworked through their own service, supported by the other members. For example, one sings with the community choir and serves as a volunteer at the community centre. Another has amazing ideas for events which the participants organise together; a recent initiative saw £1,300 raised at a local country estate for two Cullompton Charities, Cullompton Arts House and Cullompton Swimming Pool Campaign.

As the Minister of Word and Sacraments, my contribution to Hug Cullompton includes helping people to explore the Bible, leading services – such as the annual pub carol service – and presiding at the sacraments. I feel truly valued in that calling but my position invites no more authority than any other in the group.

TRIO HUGS 554x415One member had a strong desire to offer Christ’s love and healing power to anyone who needs it. The result of this vision is Wellbeing Wednesdays when Hug Cullompton’s room is thrown open for anyone who wants a chat, cuppa, hug, or free treatment. Most members volunteer or pop in at some point each Wednesday. Rather than a concentrated act of worship, it is during that period every week when the members gather, demonstrate God’s love to others, and explore what it means to live as people of faith in today’s world.

Hug Cullompton works in partnership with a number of organisations. Initiatives tend be one-offs: a fair showcasing local talents and businesses, a community art exhibition, providing a venue for the town’s first Food and Drink Festival. Hug Cullompton organises them, shares them and blesses them, then – as one member put it – “lets them grow wings and fly”, developing or not as the Holy Spirit guides.

One Hug Cullompton member likens Hug’s way of working to metamorphosis. A caterpillar is compelled to enter a pupa to be transformed into a beautiful butterfly. The term used to describe activities relating to this entomological process is ‘imaginal’ – which seems appropriate to use in relation to Hug Cullompton. It has been transformational – not just for those directly involved, but also for the town as a whole.

When asked what Hug Cullompton is all about, another participant said without hesitation: “Four things: practical spirituality, personal empowerment, making connections and growing community.” What better definition could there be of an emerging church?’

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