Named after Buriana, the sixth century saint whose mission once healed the sick on the very site of the church built in her honour some 900 years after she’d died, the rural parish of St Buryan lies towards the tip of the Cornish peninsula hallway between Penzance and Land’s End.

Each month, the historic church hosts an informal service led by lay worship leaders and members of the Parochial Church Council.

“These services are very relaxed, looking at various aspects of the Christian faith, often going back to basics for those ‘dipping their toes’ into Christianity,” explains Fiona Vinnicombe, churchwarden at St Buryan. “There’s the option for the congregation to participate if they wish, with the prayers often being interactive. Refreshments including warm pastries are available both before and after the service. Newcomers have joined this service throughout its first year and our congregation continues to grow.”

The combination of icy weather and escalating energy costs has made it increasingly difficult for churches to keep their doors open for such activities, but Fiona observes that a recent grant from the Diocese of Truro has helped the parish to continue to resource this service and promote it to a wider community, as well as to develop and extend other provision for the people of the parish.

This grant has afforded funds not only to help with heating the church building through these tough winter months but also to provide kitchen equipment and supplies for its activities.

The church is, for instance, using these resources to support its local community by hosting a Food Larder. “The Food Larder is being well used – with food both coming in and going out, as well as toiletries, cleaning products and pet supplies,” Fiona says. “For the winter months we’ve added a rail of donated warm winter clothes.”

Growing numbers

The parish also runs a Breakfast Club. After the pandemic crisis, this regular event moved into the church to make use of its new kitchen facilities. It can attract two dozen people each time.

“The numbers and mix of people coming have continued to grow,” says Fiona. “Breakfast Club has proved to be a ‘soft’ way in to joining our church community and so we would very much like to continue to grow this group. Our aim is to be able to accommodate more people.”

The parish have recently introduced another regular fixture, a monthly Soup Lunch. “We held our first proper Soup Lunch in January and had 22 people turn up,” Fiona says. “There was a mixture of ages, of people from across the community. They weren’t all churchgoers. We offered a choice of three wonderful soups, with bread, cakes, fruit and teas and coffees. It was all thoroughly enjoyed.”

Progress on these ‘warm welcome’ initiatives seems very positive. Fiona stresses that “raising awareness of everything we do and offer in our community and beyond is of prime importance.”

February went even better than January. “We had 25 guests enjoying a selection of yummy soups, bread, cake and fruit with teas and coffees,” says Fiona. “Numbers are still growing. We are already discussing how to create a bigger seating area. Everyone loves to be sharing one large table.”

These activities are clearly seen as crucial to all those who serve and sustain the church that honours the saint who ministered to the poor and the sick on this same spot some fifteen centuries ago.

The village of St Buryan may seem geographically remote to some, but the engagement of such a parish with its local community, offering support, solidarity and succour at a time of extraordinary hardship, stands at the very heart of the mission of the church.