Pastoral failure?

I am not sure where is the best place for this discussion, so please move it to a more appropriate place.
This morning I heard that a free lunch, planned by the church for those who live alone, is now cancelled through lack of take up.
I have been wondering why.
I actually see this as a collective pastoral failure by the church.
There are at least 20 regular church members who live alone, probably more, plus we have two whole groups of people who must live alone to qualify for a monthly lunch meeting ( not free), let alone many others in this small town who have no church connections, yet only four people ‘s names were listed as wanting to come.

Possible reasons might be
They feel patronised that it is free
They don’t want to be singled out as living alone
Church people have not actively invited others
Church people are out of touch with others

I would love to get TPTB to think about this.
Similarly, a couple of recent social events with no religious content, were not attended by non church people. They were not fund raisers, not evangelistic, purely social. One was free ( with optional purchases) the other involved a fish and chip supper. Hardly elitist.

To me such events should be part of our pastoral care/ outreach/ mission.
Mission is surely pastoral as well as evangelistic?
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Comments

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    It's a shame that your church lunch event didn't go ahead. If there were four takers then that would have set the ball rolling and more might have come along to the next one. A lunch club is a wonderful ministry to offer and is a great way of bringing people together. I knew one church that ran one for the local elderly and housebound and it was a great success. Particularly because the volunteers who organised it were unchurched themselves but thought it was a really worthwhile cause. So it became their church community and made a lot of lonely elderly people feel valued and supported.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I would feel a bit weird about a church meal specifically for people who live alone, and I probably wouldn't go. I wouldn't feel patronised by the fact it was free, but I would feel a bit patronised by the idea that people who live alone are being singled out, as if they need a meal because they must be lonely. And also, I wouldn't want all the other people who live alone knowing that I live alone - because I'd imagine that some people might be coming with the idea of finding a partner. In fact, I'd wonder if that might be part of the purpose of the meal - to give singles the opportunity to find a special someone.

    When I go to a church meal, it is a meal that is for anyone who wants to come, and I go because people I know and like are going and ask me if I want to come too. It is in fact mostly people who live alone who go, because it's a Sunday lunch, but it is not described as a meal for people who live alone - it is for anyone who wants to come.
  • I don't know your situation, but did you offer transport to and from? My late mother organised a weekly Lunch Club in her village, and that was an essential.

    And how well has news of this been propagated?

    Interestingly one of my churches housed a (Council run) lunch club, it closed because the numbers dropped off. This wad=s because some folk simply didn't like "clubbiness"; others who could get out did so (and possibly bought themselves Ready Meals to warm up at home) while those who couldn't get out required Meals on Wheels. In other words the potential "client base" collapsed!
  • Assuming there is a real need for the charity but the reason people are not taking it up is because it's the church, then perhaps the answer is to collaborate with secular charity bodies and add your resources and time to theirs.
  • ZacchaeusZacchaeus Shipmate
    If it were me I wouldn't find a lunch for those who live alone attractive. I would see it as saying I must be a sad and lonely old git who is being patronised.
    A lunch club for anyone who wants to come yes… specifically for those living alone I would cringe from.
    .Having said that, there is a general trend in society at the moment not to commit to things until the last minute (if at all). I’ve noticed it with diverse things like church events and children’s parties.
  • Leorning CnihtLeorning Cniht Shipmate
    edited April 29
    Puzzler wrote: »
    Possible reasons might be
    They feel patronised that it is free
    They don’t want to be singled out as living alone
    Church people have not actively invited others
    Church people are out of touch with others

    Perhaps they thought the lunch wouldn't be very good. Unless you're very short of money, "come and sit in a church hall and eat bad food" isn't much of a sales pitch.

    People, these days, have lots of choices. Perhaps some of your people who live alone were busy on the day you scheduled your lunch.

    It's the same deal with the fish-and-chip supper. Our place does one of those, and there are also various other meals organized to support the local scout troops, the mission trip, and so on. All are open to the public, and inexpensive. We get very few walk-ins - all the customers are existing supporters of scouts / the mission trip / whatever. People have other things to do. Sure - they could come and sit in our church hall and eat OK food, but why would they? Why is that attractive to anyone? There are lots of sources of inexpensive food - what makes this one special?

    Particularly if you're asking people to sign up in advance. If I'm going to commit to your event in advance, it has to be the best thing* I'm likely to be offered for that day. How good's your lunch? What do I get - lunch, and conversation with whatever random set of people turn up? Are they interesting people, or will I get stuck next to some interminable bore?

    I suppose I don't really see "lunch" as an activity, unless it's really good food. Yes, I eat lunch, but it's a thing I do because I'm hungry. There's a bunch of other necessary things I do every day, and I don't consider them activities either.


    *yes, there's game theory in here if you want it.
  • Raptor EyeRaptor Eye Shipmate
    It takes time for people to get used to new things, and people don't like being 'done to' or categorised on the whole.

    When our church wanted to offer a place where people could come to chat over a hot drink for free on the same morning each week (knowing that they wouldn't have to drink up and get out unless they bought another drink) we hoped that people who were lonely or homeless or who had mental health needs would drop in. They do, along with regulars from the church who simply like the atmosphere and offer to help, and anyone else who feels like it on the day.

    The result is a warm hubbub of chat which people look forward to. If we had advertised it as for any particular group of people, I doubt whether many would come.
  • john holdingjohn holding Ecclesiantics Host, Mystery Worshipper Host
    I have more than once run into a situation where the Rector/Powers That Be accurately diagnosed a need and proposed a solution. And no one came, not even those for whose need it had been proposed. Because no one asked the "needy" what THEY wanted or thought they needed (never did they think they needed what the Rector/PTB believed they did) or what time and place would suit if they were in fact going to attend.

    It's a tough life knowing (really knowing) what others need when those others disagree.
  • CathscatsCathscats Shipmate
    Nothing about us without us is for us.
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    I agree with Raptor Eye's comments. The nearest Anglican church is offering something similar, and as an over 65 person who lives alone it doesn't attract me at all. From time to time I do pop in to a church run drop in that isn't targeted, but attracts regular church members along with anyone else who happens to be around.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    Thank you all for your comments, which are all of value.

    This particular lunch was to be a one- off, on a Sunday, and was being organised by a relative newcomer to church. Apart from publicity in the weekly church news sheet and by word of mouth, it was not widely publicised.

    There are already two long- standing successful monthly mid-week luncheon clubs, and you have to live alone to qualify. There is also a drop-in cafe, with no stated qualifications, rather like Raptor Eye describes, which attracts reasonable interest.
    I think this organiser must have thought that Sunday can be a lonely day, once church is over. I have no information about the quality or type of food she planned to offer, or whether transport was available.

    I think the comments made all have validity.
    I had no personal involvement so I have no particular axe to grind.

    I do think that many church folk are busy with churchy things and don’t really get beyond that, not enough to know people they are able to invite to social events - a bit of a holy huddle.
    I absolutely agree that it is important to discover what is wanted, not just what church folk think is needed.
    On the other hand genuine attempts to reach out have been rejected, and the likelihood is that further efforts will not be made.
    I still view this as a pastoral failure, though in a broader sense than I was thinking earlier.
  • PigwidgeonPigwidgeon Shipmate
    Puzzler wrote: »
    I think this organiser must have thought that Sunday can be a lonely day, once church is over.

    For many retired people living alone, Sunday is the one day of the week that they're out with other people.
    :frowning:

  • RuthRuth Admin Emeritus
    I have lived alone most of my adult life, and there's no way in hell I'd go to a lunch at my church that was advertised as being organized specifically for people who live alone, free or otherwise. The implication that people who live alone need some kind of special outreach is insulting.
  • I'd be a bit concerned to advertise myself as living alone. You never know who might take advantage of that sort of information. I don't want to be a victim of crime.
  • Fawkes CatFawkes Cat Shipmate
    Puzzler wrote: »
    (...)

    This particular lunch was to be a one- off, on a Sunday (...)

    There are already two long- standing successful monthly mid-week luncheon clubs (...)

    Despite the difference in day, I think your answer is there. This isn't a pastoral failure: rather it's because the local market for church lunches is already saturated.

    It was (perhaps) worth a try, but it didn't work. Chalk it up to experience, and move on.



  • I have to say that I rarely go to church lunches because I really want to. I go because I'm expected to, or because I want to support the cause. YMMV.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Puzzler wrote: »
    ... I still view this as a pastoral failure, though in a broader sense than I was thinking earlier.
    Rather than just writing this off with an acrid 'a pastoral failure', a more wholesome way of looking at it would be, 'we tried it, but it didn't work'.

  • Raptor EyeRaptor Eye Shipmate
    I'm with those who say stay positive. Nothing is ever wasted.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    Food for thought ( sorry) to inform strategy for the future.
    I do know that, for many, church is hugely important for its social aspect as well as its spiritual one.
    I also know that Sunday can be a lonely day. People imagine others are enjoying family time, which indeed many are. It is easy to feel alone, not just those who live alone. So I applaud the original intention.
  • Puzzler wrote: »
    I still view this as a pastoral failure, though in a broader sense than I was thinking earlier.
    The pastoral failure in most (?all) churches is that those who can help choose either not to help or to only help PLU (people like us). I don't see much cross cultural or cross class interaction in many churches.

  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    When I lived in Canada, I went to a Mennonite church that sometimes held 'pot luck' lunches after church on a Sunday. They were for everyone, and everyone brings food to share, so there is nothing patronising about it - you are all contributing, and no one is singled out, and it is a nice way to feel part of the church community and get to know people.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    Sounds like a better idea, fineline.
  • I have some observations.

    First, people tend not to value something that is free: if you make a nominal charge you may get a better take-up.

    Two, isn't it rather patronising restricting the proposed lunch to people who live alone? What about those who live with others but may still be lonely, such as those caring for relatives with illness or dementia?

    Trying to do a thing like this on a Sunday is almost certainly doomed because it is the one day of the week when the singleton is likely to get an invitation to go out for drinks/ a ramble/ lunch.

    I'd suggest a re-brand: call it something like a Village or Community lunch club, and levy a nominal charge of, say £5.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited April 30
    I have some observations.

    First, people tend not to value something that is free: if you make a nominal charge you may get a better take-up.

    Two, isn't it rather patronising restricting the proposed lunch to people who live alone? What about those who live with others but may still be lonely, such as those caring for relatives with illness or dementia?

    Trying to do a thing like this on a Sunday is almost certainly doomed because it is the one day of the week when the singleton is likely to get an invitation to go out for drinks/ a ramble/ lunch.

    I'd suggest a re-brand: call it something like a Village or Community lunch club, and levy a nominal charge of, say £5.

    I wouldn't consider £5 nominal. It would make it quite out of reach, or at least a luxury, for a lot of people. Nominal to me is a quid or two. I'm not poverty stricken but if I'm buying lunch out £5 would be quite an expensive one.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I think with free v not free, it depends on the type of church. Some see all this sort of stuff as part of what they do, and don't charge. I was quite surprised when I started going to Catholic churches that they do charge for meals and such, because I wasn't used to churches charging for the services they provide. I don't think people necessarily don't value something that is free - I suppose it depends what you are used to, church-wise, and also on how much money you have.

    I personally think £5 is a lot to pay for a church lunch, which is why I don't go very often to the Catholic church lunches I get invited to (they ask for £5 too). It would be cheap if it were a restaurant, but a restaurant is a business, and a church isn't. I can make myself a meal much cheaper at home.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    Loneliness is not the absence of other people; it is the perception of needs for other people that are not filled. If you feel the need to be listened to in a crowd but you are not allowed to speak then that is a lonely experience
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Does that include a contribution to particular activities of the church? 2 pounds might amply cover the cost of the lunch, the balance being a contribution to support a meals-on-wheels project the church runs.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    And a totally different approach has worked well at St Sanity; a midweek lunch around every 6 weeks or so. The organiser rings people to ask them to join her and some others at an off-church-site venue. No couples, nor equal numbers of men and women. There's a table of 8, simple ordering for food and wine at a bar, enabling lots of choice of food style and price. People are expected to arrive more or less on time, but no set time to leave.
  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    Several thoughts
    • If I were not a member of the congregation I’d be wary that you would try to lure me to attend your church or be converted in some way
    • My former elderly neighbor, living alone for some 20 years, hated going into social encounters, I am sure there are people like her
    • I’d be concerned about who else is there and how they are going to try to push me into engaging with others when I don’t really wish to.
    • I’d be wary about getting seated with some awful bigot who might make me feel less-than-safe, or some gossip monger who bores me with conjecture about who lives next door.
    • If this is “for those living alone” I’d be concerned about how others may pry into my living patterns, and use that information to steal from me/break into my house, and so on -- I’d feel vulnerable

    But don’t count this as a failure! Give it time, let it grow. Word of mouth will be more powerful than posters. And for goodness sake do not hold it on a Sunday -- too much of a churchy cloud hangs over that day, especially if I am not a church goer. Maybe start small -- something tied to a special day or event in your area. Maybe get 3 people yu know wh live alone to to the planning together with you.
  • RuthRuth Admin Emeritus
    Trying to do a thing like this on a Sunday is almost certainly doomed because it is the one day of the week when the singleton is likely to get an invitation to go out for drinks/ a ramble/ lunch.

    Yes - this makes more sense to me than the assumption that Sunday is a lonely day.
  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    Some afterthoughts:
    Years ago I attended a parish that had a weekly free dinner. It was run by an older parishioner who had known hunger and abuse as a child. She raised seven children after he husband died suddenly, and would admit that she’d bait a fish hook with bread to catch pigeons in the town square so she could feed her family. Later in life, with children grown, she started this low key free meal at her parish church. Her motivation was the concern expressed by her grandchildren that their friends didn’t always have food. So she cooked and invited them. They brought others. That feeding program flourished for over 20 years.

    A priest colleague of mine, new to a parish in a run down town, was aware there was no place for older folk to gather. So she advertised “Senior Mondays” in the undercroft -- free coffee and snacks, and board games to play. She would sit, week by week in her clerical collar, eager to “do something good.” No one came, ever.

    All of which is to suggest that church leadership might best chat with someone they know who lives alone, see what they want and need, and then be the servants in helping them to make it real.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    Thank you for all the points made. I have been offline for a couple of days, but I will gather the information and try to find a way to pass it on to the well- meaning lady whose idea it was. She was so disappointed.
  • Well, at least she tried. If you do nothing, you achieve nothing. If you do something.......

    It may be that the Good Lady will not be unduly discouraged, but will turn her thoughts to Something Else, aided by the collective wisdom of Shipmates!
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    In a previous church, they held an informal cafe church style service on Sundays, which once month had communion and a lunch afterwards (at the time £1 for adults and 50p for kids, adjusted for inflation more like £2 for adults and £1 for kids). They also held a midweek lunch with similar prices after one of the toddler groups, with a few play items left out so children could play while parents ate. I think that associating the meal with an existing service or activity worked well. Bring and share picnics work well in good weather if you have some outdoor space or a nearby park or beach. £5 a head is definitely not nominal by the way, especially for a family in need.

    Many people choose to live alone and enjoy it - indeed, when people are having to share homes until their 40s now it's quite a luxury! Of course some will be lonely but there will also be many lonely people who care for a spouse or relative, or single parents. The security and safety aspects would be a real concern to me - advertising a lunch specifically for people who live alone would definitely make me think I was opening myself up to be preyed upon. Agreed that asking local people what they need is what should happen - don't make assumptions about what they need.
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    Also regarding the social events - what are the demographics locally? Does your local area have a lot of people who would go to church to socialise? You probably would get more people at a fundraiser - there's an actual purpose attached. People who don't go to church are highly unlikely to go to church purely to socialise, because they already have a social life or activities outside church. Even most people within a church don't tend to only socialise at church. Given a choice between awkwardly socialising at church on a weekday evening or watching Netflix at home....I'd choose Netflix.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    I am sure she will!
    Thinking more about sociable activities that could be used to build community links, we have had no success with an auction evening, quiz night, car treasure hunt, all of which seemed to me to be good ideas.
    Perhaps there is already too much going on in our small town.

    The only thing that has brought in people and money is a Christmas Tree Festival. An art exhibition was well attended and much appreciated but raised only a small amount and did not exactly engage with people.
  • Yes, it's a job sometimes - especially if (as you say) there's a lot of other things going on at the same time in the same small area.

    Part of me wonders if, perhaps, the Church* would do better by simply offering what the Church* does - regular worship (well done), baptisms, weddings, funerals, pastoral care for those in need, maybe a 'safe space' for coffee/informal chat during the week - rather than fretting about jumble sales, quiz nights etc. etc.

    If an obvious need arises e.g. for a lunch club or some such, by all means have a go!

    *of whatever denomination or 'style'.....
  • Puzzler wrote: »
    I am sure she will!
    Thinking more about sociable activities that could be used to build community links, we have had no success with an auction evening, quiz night, car treasure hunt, all of which seemed to me to be good ideas.
    Perhaps there is already too much going on in our small town.

    Those things all seem to me to be good ideas for people who already know each other. Doing a treasure hunt / going to an auction or quiz night with friends might be fun. Doing it with random strangers doesn't sound attractive.

    If I'm going to do a thing with a bunch of strangers, I'd want to have an actual purpose, rather than just "socialize". What do people like to do in your neck of the woods? If you're offering something I'm interested in doing, I might well turn up every week to do it, and meet people as a consequence of that.

    Do people want to play (or learn to play) bridge, or chess, or backgammon? Do they fish, and want to tie flies? Do they knit, or crochet, or embroider? Do they paint, or sketch? I'm not going to mention book clubs, because most book clubs are an excuse for people who already know each other to get together, drink, and chat, and contain only the most superficial discussion of the assigned book.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    @Bishops Finger there's a lot to be said for that - as a general principle to apply right across the board. An organisation should concentrate its efforts on what it's primarily there for. One of the points where organisations start to go wrong is when they put too much effort into collateral things and lose sight of what ethereally ought to be trying to do.

    The Post Office is there to collect and deliver letters, parcels etc. Selling stamps is collateral to that. So were Postal Orders because in the days when everything was cash, they helped people send money by post. When there were post offices everywhere, it made a sort of sense for the government to use the Post Office to collect driving licence applications etc. But selling investment bonds, insurance etc. etc. can all too easily be a distraction, meaning the effort goes into the alternative bright ideas rather than moving letters, parcels etc around the country fast, cheaply and reliably.

    So churches "of whatever denomination or 'style' " are there to be the body of Christ in any particular location. Other activities, coffee mornings, lunch clubs, maintaining ancient buildings, providing quality music etc. etc. are good if they are collateral to that core purpose and further it, but bad if they distract from or get in the way of it.

    Except that the OP's already asked a different question, almost feel like ending that with the word "Discuss".
  • DoublethinkDoublethink Shipmate
    My experience of religious lunches that are not at Christmas, is that they are often advertised as ‘simple’ and this often means, indeterminate soup and somekind of veggie dish. I do not like that kind of food.

    This would have big impact on whether I’d turn up to something like that.

    Also, I’d have assumed you meant folks over 65 rather than anyone living alone.
  • GarasuGarasu Shipmate
    That is actually an issue I think?

    I'm seriously considering re-categorising myself as 'celibate' rather than 'single' just to gain an identity....
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    Haha Doublethink - when I was a vegetarian I has a really hard time getting food at church meals! But then this was in evangelical churches which seem to have odd hangups about vegetarianism and veganism, particularly in men. In my experience, simple church lunches in the UK tend to be used as Christian Aid/CAFOD fundraisers in Lent and Advent. I haven't experienced that outside of something intentionally connected to fundraising/awareness for charity.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    I agree there is absolutely validity in churches being there for their prime purpose.
    That includes being a safe and friendly place which welcomes all, and especially those most in need. I guess the lunch in my OP was seen as part of pastoral care for the elderly in particular.

    But if we are to “ grow disciples “?
    Where are they going to come from? How are they going to connect with church?
    I would be very surprised if many people just suddenly turn up to a Sunday service and decide to stay on long term, without some prior connection.

    In a church I went to for a while in another city, community activities are very strong and are certainly a way in for new people eg lunch club, knit and natter, toddlers, drama group and so on.
    What works in one place does not work in others.
  • But maybe the thing to start is a knit and natter group? Or toddlers? Locally we have a toddlers one day a week and morning market coffee with a book stall on market day. Both those pull in their own communities, but they are aimed at everyone who wants to come along, and the book stall finds he does a better trade with the stall outside, not in the church. We also have series of Saturday coffee concerts that pull a different group in.

    I don't really think of meals in church being something to go along to meet people - they tend to be fundraisers, so not cheap, Lenten fare in Lent, or a religious type event - Christian Seder, Christmas Meal or Harvest Festival.

    The Art Exhibition in May here is part of a church open day with a chance to look at the records, climb the church tower, see old vestments, buy lunch - and yes, ploughman's and/or soup, cakes and tea type refreshments. There are usually other stalls outside to encourage people in - so plants, the book stall, fair trade, bric-a-brac. And usually entertainment provided by various groups singing or playing. That gets people along to visit and see the church.
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    If you are near a school, providing refreshments and a place to sit around pickup time can be a good option.

    I think people like something with a purpose, rather than general socialising, or something built upon an existing group. What about a toddler group or drama group etc in your current church? Maybe a book group or local history group? Some kind of fete or open day for your patronal festival may be a good idea too, especially a warm weather feast day.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    Great ideas.
    Not wishing to sound negative, but the reality is that book group and local history are already well catered for in this town, u3A is strong. Several toddlers groups exist, two in our church hall but are rentals, not church run, and we already do Knit and natter or equivalent.
    The Methodists have a superb modern building and have catered for a variety of needs.
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    I think maybe asking local people what kind of community activities are needed in the area might be a good idea then. It may be that you end up providing space for non-church groups who have nowhere else to go, or something similar.

    Is the church open in the daytime? If so, is it advertised as such clearly? I think people really value churches that are open in the day. I know a church (inner city which may not apply to you) which was open in the day and had a table on which they put a jug of water and paper cups, and a bowl of fruit, and a donation box for those able to pay for their fruit. Here in a small city with rural outskirts, I've seen local produce and an honesty box left on the table of a church open in the day. Obviously you don't have to do any of those things, but I think even a jug of water and some paper cups says 'you are welcome here'. None of this is for getting bums on seats of course, but is part of making people feel like they can belong.
  • Interesting and potentially useful ideas.

    Our Place is, in fact, now open every day, but mostly just for the weekday Mass. My Fellow-Reader would like to do something along the lines mentioned by Pomona, so I think we need to have a word with Father NewPriest, to see what he thinks.

    Fellow-Reader and I might well be able to be a 'visible presence' in the church, at least on some days, along with others maybe (we don't expect Fr NP to do everything!).

    We are a little off the beaten track (St Faithful-in-the-Backstreets), with not much passing trade, except for the young Mums going to/coming from the pre-school Nursery in our Hall, and also those on their way to or from a local supermarket.....
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    I think today at the place I worship while doing sacristy work after the daily Mass about a dozen people came in within the space of two hours. We do not offer drinks as there is a cafe in what was the church rooms and we really do not have the facilities. This was not particularly unusual. There are some people who will drop in a couple of times, then come to a low key mass before finally getting up the courage to attend the main Sunday mass but we just value being a space where people can have a bit of quiet and say a prayer.
  • PigwidgeonPigwidgeon Shipmate
    Last summer, while traveling, I was chatting with a gentleman who lives in a different part of the U.S. about the extreme heat here in the Phoenix area, and about how the homeless are affected by it. He wondered if my church provided a "cooling station," and if not, why not. (Just a place to escape the intense heat-- to enjoy sitting in an air conditioned building and have a bottle of water.) We were between rectors at the time, but now that we also have a "Father NewPriest," I hope to bring this up with him and/or the Vestry.
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