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ONE of the best-known names in Kendal's flood recovery effort - the Rev Jonny Gios, of Sandylands Methodist Church - is taking on a fresh challenge in the new year.

The community worker and father-of-two will be leading his last service on Christmas Eve before taking on the role of spearheading the newly-launched charity Hope Community.

As Jonny explained, the charity sets out to help churches engage more closely with the community in Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lancashire. He said it was exciting to be 'stepping into the unknown'.

"We’re excited to have launched Hope Community – helping churches engage with their communities, with the aspiration that we will see people come to faith in Jesus," Jonny told the Gazette.

"The church has too often hidden away in its buildings, closing the doors after worship has begun and becoming strangely alienated from the community it ought to be serving. While recognising the importance of proclaiming the good news about Jesus, we endeavour to encourage churches to become a blessing to their communities through ministries of mercy and justice, acting like salt and light amidst the darkness."

From January, Jonny hopes to share his 16 years' experience on Carlisle's Raffles Estate and on Kendal's Sandylands with many other churches and communities, in his new job as community networker. The Hope Community charity is to be officially launched on February 18, 2017.

Most of this year has seen Jonny heavily involved in flood recovery work after last December's Storm Desmond, in and around Sandylands Methodist Church, which was itself badly hit by flooding. Nine hundred residents and businesses were affected in the immediate area and Jonny was among people recognised for their efforts by then Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street in March.

Jonny said he has been 'encouraged and supported' by Roy Crowne, executive director of the nationwide charity Hope. Roy said: "I’m thrilled to see Hope Community launched with Jonny Gios as the spearhead. His experience of 16 years of community engagement, pastorally and around youth ministry, stands him in good stead for this position and some of the innovative initiatives that Jonny has done have really established the church at the heart of its community."

Meanwhile, Cumbria’s police commissioner Peter McCall said: "I am delighted to be support the launch of Hope Community. The work of the churches and of Jonny Gios in Kendal during and after the devastating floods in December 2015 was the most real and tangible example of the church getting stuck in to help local communities when they needed it most.

"Hope Community seeks to help churches to engage with and support the local communities they serve. This aspiration lies at the heart of the Christian mission to serve and make our communities better for all. Together we are stronger, whatever our endeavour, whether that be building local communities, showing young people strong values and standards to avoid being drawn into crime, or supporting the vulnerable. The vision of Hope Community to be a witness in and to our communities is a real demonstration of the church in action, in a relevant and meaningful way. I encourage and urge you to support Hope Community where and how you may be able."

Jonny hopes the community will celebrate together at the Christingle service at Sandylands Methodist Church on Christmas Eve, 4pm.

For more, visit www.hope-community.uk, follow @HopeCommunityUK on Twitter, Hope Community on Facebook, or search for Hope Community on YouTube.