Leaders of the county’s emergency services, charities, churches and councils came together at the weekend for an ‘inspirational’ breakfast.
The second West Sussex Prayer Breakfast was held on Saturday (February 20) at the picturesque Wiston Estate near Steyning.
The initiative was started last year by the then High Sheriff of West Sussex Jonathan Lucas.
His successor Denise Patterson said: “Following the success of last year’s first prayer breakfast here in West Sussex, I am delighted to continue this splendid opportunity for all of you who are in positions of responsibility in our county, to meet and reflect on not only our Christian faith, but also our shared values and to West Sussex as a whole.”
She held up the response to the Shoreham air crash last year as a beacon of community spirit. She said: “The dedication and commitment our of wonderful police and search officers, the emergency services and the amazing volunteers working 12 hour shifts was an inspiration.
“And during these dark and, for some, horrific days, local ladies delivered cakes and Marks and Spencer and Tesco donated socks and food.
“There was even a lovely moment when some children gave one of the police search teams a box of Cadbury’s Heroes. Truly a community protecting the most vulnerable and coming together for the good of all.”
This year’s speaker was the Christian author and Baptist minister, Steve Chalke, whose links with Wiston go back to the first Big Church Day Out event in 2009.
He shared his story of how, aged 14, he committed himself to build a school, hostel and hospital to change lives for the better.
The Oasis Charitable Trust was born in 1981. It is now a worldwide movement of schools, colleges and hostels in the UK and programmes in all five continents tackling poverty and trafficking.
He said: “I often get asked, ‘do you have to go to church to be a Christian?’ Really, that’s the wrong question.
“It should be, ‘What kind of community do you need to belong to, to become the kind of person you want to be and to be the best you can be?’
“Why are we here for breakfast at this wonderful place?
“It has been wonderful. But you didn’t come for breakfast and you didn’t come to be in this delightful setting.
“You came because you want to make history. You want to change history to make a difference. You want to be people who leave behind a legacy that’s different to the way things have been; to tell a counter-narrative, a deeper narrative like that story of Jesus I heard when I was 14.
“In order for that to happen we have to live it.”
Mrs Patterson highlighted two charities which are also working to change lives, the West Sussex Community Foundation and Lifecentre.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the foundation has given out £8.5million to about 2,000 charities and good causes in the county.
Lifecentre works with people from aged three to 83 who have suffered sexual abuse. They have centres in Chichester, Worthing and Crawley.
Founder and chief executive Maggie Ellis said: “I feel inspired again about how each of use can make a difference and we mustn’t settle for moaning about the negatives.
“It was a prayer breakfast and to me prayer is where heaven meets earth. When we feel bogged down by difficulties in life, we know that place where heaven meets earth and to keep finding that space because it’s in that space where we can make a difference.”
There were also visitors from the public sector.
Lee Neale from West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service was there for the first time. He said: “I partly came out of curiosity. It was truly inspirational - the speaker in particular.
“What I got from it was as a fire and rescue service we do a lot more community work than we used to. We’re not just about putting out fires. There’s so much more going on and so much more that can be done.”
Big Church Day Out 2016
The Wiston Estate is used for several Christian events throughout the year, including the popular Big Church Day Out, this year on Saturday and Sunday May 28-29.
An event for all ages, it attracts people with faith or no faith, who camp or come for a day to enjoy music, games and guest speakers. For details go to bigchurchdayout.com
Chairman of West Sussex County Council Pat Arculus said: “It’s the chance to hear an inspirational speaker and talk together with other people who have the opportunity to work in the community to make our communities stronger and more successful.”