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Why we started the Market

By Andrew Bradstock

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St Mary’s Market describes itself as ‘a church-led community enterprise inspired by the teachings of Jesus’. But what does that mean?

At first glance, a market run by a church seems to be the very opposite of what Jesus would have wanted. Didn’t he once drive out people buying and selling in a place of worship, one of the few examples in the Bible of him losing his cool?

Yes, that’s true, but there are some important differences between the sort of market Jesus objected to, and our own goals for St Mary’s Market.

First, we are here to serve everybody, whereas the buyers and sellers Jesus encountered were out to exploit people. He said they were turning a house of prayer into a ‘den of robbers’, which says it all.

We are inspired by Jesus’ message that he came to bring life.

‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’, he once said (John 10.10).

At St Mary’s we offer people a space to acquire the basic goods that we need to sustain and nurture ourselves. We also want to help the people who get the food to us to know ‘abundant life’.

So our products are fairly traded, meaning the producers get a fair wage for their effort and aren’t exploited.

Fair-trade goods can be more expensive than others: when we buy something cheap, someone is missing out along the chain. Yet because our market is run by volunteers, and has few overheads, we can keep our prices compatible with, if not below, supermarket ones.

We believe the planet has been entrusted to human beings to look after and pass on to future generations. So our produce is locally-produced, not flown thousands of miles across the globe, and organic.

We want to help cut down on our use of plastic by offering a refill point for essential household cleaning and soap products. You bring along an empty milk or detergent bottle, and we fill it up with what you need, thus saving plastic waste.

We also encourage you to bring your preloved clothes and bric-a-brac, and to buy what others have donated. This ensures that the most use is obtained from products and cuts down on waste, another ‘plus’ for the planet.

Local people who have created or grown something are also encouraged to display and sell their products at the market.

In many ways we are just like a regular corner or village shop, except that we don’t have the pressure of having to make a profit to survive. If we do raise any money, it will be used to develop St Mary’s as a place for prayer.

Local shops are places for meeting and conversation, and we encourage our visitors to stay and talk. Having people stay and chat is more important than having them spend their money – in fact, we want you to come to the market even if you don’t intend to buy anything! Take the opportunity to meet others and to meet us, to talk about anything that is on your mind.

One of the most inspiring things about Jesus’ ministry was that he went out of his way to meet people and engage them in conversation. He was a listener as well as a talker, and that’s our model as we seek to follow his example and teachings.

Jesus saw and valued the contribution people could make to the common good – even a young child with a few bits of bread and fish! So we want to involve everybody in our project and encourage them to share their talents. If you would like to help at the market, or on other church ventures, please let us know.

We encourage all volunteers to become involved in the collective management and decision-making for this initiative. This is in every respect a local community project.

We’re inspired by Jesus, but also by others who valued people more than wealth, power or self-interest. These include Mahatma Gandhi, who asked that we ‘live simply so that others may simply live’, and the 17th-century Diggers, who put the wellbeing of their community before individual interests. Some of the very first Christians rejected ‘private ownership of any possessions’ and held everything they owned ‘in common’ (Acts 4.32).

The pandemic has limited the use of church buildings for collective worship and encouraged us to think afresh about how we can best serve our local neighbourhoods in the spirit of Christ. We hope that St Mary’s Market will be one positive way.

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