Case Study: Abbey Baptist Church


Case study – Abbey Baptist Church, Reading

In the space of a couple of years, Abbey Baptist Church Reading has gone from being a small, aging, inward-looking, white congregation to a much larger, growing, vibrant church, which is serving and welcoming in a range of nationalities. We recently met with Rev Julia Binney to find out more about what happened and the great work they are now doing with refugees, asylum seekers and newcomers from Hong Kong.

When Rev Julia Binney came to be the Minister of Abbey Baptist Church in Reading in 2018 the congregation numbered about two dozen, most of whom were elderly. Now Sunday mornings see over a hundred people of all ages, from many different countries, worshipping together, and many more international friends come through the doors during the week for various activities.

This surprising transformation has happened step by step. Whilst the church members were initially quite risk averse, they bravely stepped out of their comfort zone, following God’s leading. First steps in showing love to new neighbours were offering their premises for storage and distribution of food by Reading Red Kitchen to refugees in a nearby hotel. Then they let Care4Calais Reading use the building to collect clothes for refugees.

At a vision day in September 2021 the church members committed themselves to transitioning to becoming an international, intercultural church. This was a key moment. Inspired by Krish Kandiah they got involved in Hong Kong Welcome and through that became members of the Welcome Churches Network.

Aware of the English language needs of newly arrived Hong Kongers, as well as some members of the entirely separate Tamil, West African and Brazilian congregations which already met on the premises, Abbey Baptist Church decided to set up an English language conversation café. They did this in partnership with 2:19 and called it Abbey iCaf. Volunteers from Abbey Baptist church took on this new challenge and the café was soon very popular, particularly with people from Hong Kong and Iran. As the café has grown more volunteers from other local churches have joined in too.

The church continues to partner with Reading Red Kitchen to feed refugees and with Care4Calais to provide a Saturday drop-in, which offers social contact, refreshments, material items and advice.

Many of those who have come to the iCaf have accepted the invitation to come to the church services, which has swelled and diversified the congregation. People appreciate the printed service sheets in multiple languages (produced simply using Google Translate) which help them to better understand what is happening and really participate. These new members have been a great blessing to the fellowship and many have used their skills and gifts to help the church in practical ways.

More about Abbey Baptist Church’s ministry can be found on its Facebook page and in a recent Baptists Together article. Why not also come along to Churches Standing with Refugees on 5th December 2022, 7 – 9 pm, which is being held at Abbey Baptist Church, and talk with Rev Julia Binney in person.