More than twenty years ago Sean Stillman, who worked with bikers, had the idea of setting up a church that would be more approachable than 'normal' churches. So every Sunday evening for seven years Sean and Lorraine, a local singer, would hold a gathering in a pub in Swansea's city centre. Lorraine would sing a song or two, Sean would share a thought for the day type thing, and there'd be opportunity to question and discuss faith as well as meet people and build friendships.
At that time it was called Zac's Place, church in a pub? (The question mark was important because no-one knew if it would work.) A pub wasn't the ideal setting though for some of those with addiction issues who went along so when an old gospel hall came up for sale, Exousia Trust that was created to support Sean, bought it and now it's Zac's Place, church for ragamuffins.
With its own premises Zac's was now able to offer more. At the moment breakfast is served there everyday to rough sleepers. That's done in conjunction with the Wallich charity. As well as food, guests can access information and help as well as medical advice from the homeless nurse. There are regular health check days too, and the building is used by another charity for art classes for rough sleepers.
On Thursday evenings Zac's is open for coffee bar/soup kitchen/drop in. These evenings can get very crowded and sometimes rowdy but Zac's has the reputation of being the last place in Swansea from which anyone will be banned.
And on Tuesdays we have our main church gathering, our bible study. This is regularly attended by about thirty people and, at the moment, most of those are really interested and keen to know more. No-one is ever turned away though. As Sean is fond of saying, Zac's is a level playing field. Everyone deserves respect, the chance to speak, and the chance to be listened to.
I'll often see men in prison and they'll say, 'I know you from Zac's,' or in Zac's they'll say, 'I know you from prison.'
|Sean (right) with Barry Maguire (Eve of Destruction fame) after he played a gig in Zac's|
The damp in the hall means that we're not able to store as many clothes as we used to but we still have a large food supply that we can give out to anyone who needs it.
As someone who has been going to Zac's and been involved there for a number of years I can get a bit blase about it but just about everyone who comes in says that it is special. But let me quote Andrew Roberts from his book, Holy Habits.
"(At Zac's) I encountered a community of self-proclaimed ragamuffins that was one of the most authentic Christian communities I have ever met. I met people really trying their very best to make all welcome. The love was tangible. At Zac's the hungry are fed (the food is great), the naked are clothed, the sick are prayed for and God's word is proclaimed. The Kingdom of God is at hand."