Emmanuel Café Church, launched in 2005, meets on Sunday evenings at Emmanuel Centre, Leeds University. Matt Ward is Lead Chaplain to the University and also oversees Café Church.
I'm on an open-ended contract here and I still feel that I'm in right place doing the right thing, but the Café Church all feels a bit fragile. In September 2012, the leavers were a group of people who had been involved from their first term so have been around for three years. It was a strong, cohesive group and it seemed that all of our long-standing members had gone.
However there are also a lot of people who have been here for a year or two years and they are also really important. We don't seem to have had a lot of new people coming in recently but, based on previous patterns, I'd say that maybe it takes people a term or two to find their way to us.
There's quite a mix of people who have previously been part of a church and others who have never had any links with church at all. Most of those without any church background come through conversations I have around the university, not necessarily when I'm working on Café Church.
It can be very surprising to see how things develop. For instance, we have a student worker based at the chaplaincy office and she joined a knitting group. They weren't connected with us in any way but now they've asked her to do a Bible study for them in the café where they knit. To be honest I have mixed feelings because part of me wonders how this is sustainable because she's only with us for a year but, on the other hand, I'm thinking, 'How can I support this group and help it develop even though it's not part of Café Church?' The bottom line is that the whole thing is a risky enterprise which requires you to trust God all the time!
If I just look at numbers, Café Church is pretty small - around a dozen or so regulars - but then I look back over the last five years and think about how many of the people who have been involved with Café Church are either training for ministry or involved in ministry in different ways already. There is something that is transformational, way beyond the numbers attending.
Then I look at other churches in the area which have large-scale, band-led worship with 30 minute expository sermons and they regularly attract several hundred students. It would be the easiest thing in the world to say that we could do here what works 'over there' but that's not necessarily the right thing to do.
Other people may not see it that way because, as everywhere, resources and money is tight and I am often asked about numbers and finance and so on. That's the really difficult thing for me; namely how we actually make sense of 'measuring' things. We are in a culture that measures everything so it's no surprise that we are questioned about things like, 'How much giving do you generate?'
Looking at my wider work at the University, a senior manager here was discussing the introduction of Key Performance Indicators for chaplaincy. Thankfully she did also say that it was important to measure the right things for those Indicators, reflecting the quality of the engagement that we are able to have. To me, this is something around the work of the ministry itself. Look at the investment that Jesus makes with certain individuals, at times it seems out of all proportion to what you would expect and yet the transformation in their lives is total. It can be very difficult to work out that balance but it's important to try.
Café Church aims to equip young adults for their journey in faith and help them to continually draw on those resources. We give them the tools, not the answers. I work with a group of people who are very literate, very technically aware on the whole and very questioning so I have to engage with them in that way. It's knowing your community, trying to be with them and alongside them, and speak in their 'language'.
As part of encouraging them in discipleship, everyone shares in the leading of Café Church. By the end of a year everyone will have taken a lead at some point, it's a very deliberate thing. They are all capable of doing it and sometimes people really surprise you by what they bring. It's important that we are aware of each other's needs and those of the community around us but it is also good to remember that we are part of the wider Anglican Church. There is a reason why we have a lectionary, and some of that is really valuable for us.
As the leader of a community, the sort of approach we have at Café Church could feel quite threatening but I find it really refreshing - even though at times you have to very much think on your feet. It can be frustrating if you have done a lot of preparatory work but the conversations go off on a totally different tangent than you expected. It's then important to discern whether they've gone in a helpful direction or not!