When you go and vote, what do you expect to find? A damp church hall, bored looking council officials, tellers who are more interested in you as a number than as a person? Would you prefer a cheerful welcome, a friendly chat, a nice cup of coffee and a slice of homemade cake? Well, in Woking’s Mount Hermon ward, this has been the reality for many years. This area has elections every single year, and a small army of welcomers, helpers and cake-bakers swings into action. Having opened for business for the local elections on 2 May, St Mary of Bethany Church is preparing for a second bite of the cherry at the European elections on 23 May.
Organiser Rachel Warne says:
"Our church had the vision to connect with our community on the one day each year where most local people come into our building. Part of our church’s vision is “to be community” – what better way of doing this than encouraging people to stop for tea, cake and a chat? We find that people are really receptive. It’s become such an established part of local life that some people plan their day around it – one man always brings his children for breakfast at 7am before the school run!"
Rachel has mustered a team of more than 20 people who start work getting the building ready at 6am and don’t knock off until after polling closes at 10pm. A typical polling day includes a bit of live music from the church band, and a display of either art or local history.
Vicar Mark Wallace says:
"Churches are showing Britain the way when it comes to our politics. Our communities are places where people have always found 'good disagreement' about all sorts of issues, because we know that something more important unites us: our shared faith that God loves us. It’s a breath of fresh air for so many people to walk into a polling station thinking they were just going to vote, but to find such a warm welcome. And of course it’s a welcome they can find in all our church life, seven days a week."