Mary Casey gives the latest news from FREEdom café in Seaton, Devon.
Our monthly community café, where everyone orders freely from our menu and there is no charge, began three years ago in St Gregory's parish church hall. A short prayer time, known as 3.2.1 for Jesus, evolved from FREEdom Café as a way for the Christians volunteering with us to give thanks for God's gifts there. When we first started, about 60 people visited the cafe for lunch with about 8 to 10 volunteers staying behind to pray together after the doors had closed for the day.
We offer, and advertise, our hospitality to anyone living, working or visiting our town and now regularly feed around 200 people from all walks of life every month. At September's café, we handled 254 orders in three hours!
The café has fully funded itself - and given money back into the local community and for mission within our church - over the three year period. We do not ask for any money for our hospitality but do have three prayer baskets which are placed on our book and rummage stalls and our church/community table while FREEdom Café is open. These baskets give people an opportunity to leave a prayer request. Monetary donations through these baskets help to fund the café; other income is given by volunteers in produce, time, effort and talent. Our church prays for the mission of FREEdom Café but so far has not had to consider subsidising its funding. God truly supplies what we need!
I make a point every time we meet of closing the cafe at 1.30pm and inviting people to what has now become 15 minutes of worship (having grown from simple prayers) at 1.45pm. This gives enough time for anyone who doesn't want to stay, to eat up and escape!
Pene (who also worships at St Gregory's) and I both completed the Pioneer Discipleship course [mission shaped ministry] and we lead the worship - sometimes together or sometimes alone – though, from time to time, we do ask others to read our FREEdom café prayer. We have regulars who come to eat each month and stay for 3.2.1. Some are Christians from other churches and others who 'don't do church' at all. We print 40 worship sheets each month and numbers of those worshipping with us range from 35 to 45.
I feel pioneers can often feel that they are on their own in what they do, and I think it is a challenge for the wider Church as to how they support pioneers on their doorstep – particularly in looking at how those pioneers might maintain themselves spiritually in order to ensure that the work doesn't become stale. It can be hard to feel that there is no obvious support in place. It's also worth thinking more about how people who come to a fresh expression such as ours can best be helped if they are seeking to go further in the Christian faith.
There are a lot of questions while this work continues. Is 3.2.1 for Jesus a new church community or just a group of people being church together for 15 minutes each month? FREEdom Café certainly acts out the gospel story but is that church? But one thing I do know - FREEdom Café and 3.2.1 for Jesus is not about getting people into a particular building; it's about showing people God's love and giving people a taste of Jesus.