Through lockdown, we have heard story after story from Vineyard churches, of people reaching out to meet the needs in their locality – building community, delivering food parcels, cooking hot meals and looking out for the most vulnerable. Recently we caught up with David Flowers, Senior Pastor of Leeds Vineyard church, to find out how they have got creative to meet a very particular need in their community through their Child Contact Centre in Leeds…
“The Bible is full of God’s promises! At the end of the book of Malachi, we read a particularly incredible and mysterious promise from God:
‘He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents’ (Malachi 4:6).
This promise inspires the work of our Child Contact Centre at Leeds Vineyard – a ministry which works in partnership with the social services and the justice system in Leeds to provide a safe place for estranged and broken families to re-connect. It’s the only one in Leeds and serves dozens of families, sometimes for many months or even years.
Under normal circumstances, the typical form this takes is that every other Saturday a mother will bring one or more children to our venue where they will be met by a trained volunteer team. The father will arrive separately and will spend a couple of hours with their child under the oversight of the team and in a fun environment (whilst the mother waits elsewhere). This usually happens as a result of a court order and a great result is when, after a few months, the parents make their own arrangements for contact – away from the Child Contact Centre.
Often stories from families unfold over months – even years! We love this story from September last year: Two young brothers had been coming to the Child Contact Centre for nearly a year, supported by their guardian and as a result of court orders. At the next court hearing the orders were adjusted to permit the Dad to have unsupervised contact in the community (outside of the Child Contact Centre). The Dad’s time with the boys went quickly from just two hours a week to five hours and then to overnight stays. This was a great outcome! Towards the end of last month this dad welcomed a new baby into his new family, another boy, which his sons are very happy about.
It is amazing to watch extreme brokenness gradually healed and the Malachi promise fulfilled. We are not permitted to directly tell our clients about Jesus but the team covers the people and the place with prayer and we believe the Holy Spirit is at work in deep and marvellous ways.
When social distancing was imposed in March 2020 we had to close the normal functioning of the Child Contact Centre. However the team decided to try and arrange contact between parents and children through Zoom! We believe we were the first centre in the UK to do so. Our centre has been successfully offering ongoing encounters for several families, with everyone learning how to get the most contact they can from an online meeting.
The fathers involved often lack skills with children and usually struggle with engaging over Zoom. But the team sends them ideas, activities, drawing and modelling kits and are delighted to see these dads putting in the effort and gradually building meaningful time with their children online.
Lockdown has magnified the need and inhibited the practice but by going online the Child Contact Centre team have continued an amazing work in helping turn the hearts of parents to the children and the hearts of the children to their parents.