It has been a time of great change for Reconnect. Its leader, Paul Bradbury, describes how the missional community in Poole is now running the café which it previously used as its office base.
The Old Stables Café went out of business in October last year, which was all a bit of a surprise and I was left as a sitting tenant. We prayed a great deal about whether we should take it on or not but it really seemed like a God-given opportunity to use a place to build relationship and form community.
We went on to form a team and took on responsibility for all sorts of things associated with a project of this kind - including refurbishing the premises, recruiting volunteers and sorting out the legal issues. We also raised £17,000, renamed it No34 and transformed the look and feel of the place. We opened to the public at the beginning of February and it has been quite a steep learning curve ever since.
The model that we have started to present is not one that can be taken off the shelf because it isn't 'just' a café; it's a community café with a missional community at its heart. Trying to work out what this might look like as we go along has stretched us enormously.
No34 is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am to 3pm. We also have a first floor lounge available for various events and meetings - and Space for Life, which met in the previous cafe for over a year, is continuing on Tuesday mornings as a group using textile art in creative ways.
At one point I was doing all the marketing for the café as well as trying to lead a fresh expression of church. I have certainly diversified in my work but I just try to follow what I feel God’s Spirit is asking me to do - and do it. Now we are trying to get the right resources to make that work sustainable because there were points in the café's opening few months where I needed those resources a lot quicker. I was getting overwhelmed by it all.
Thankfully, we employed a café manager who had experience in catering and understood the business. This will become all the more important in the summer months because we have some tables out on the street and it's a real attraction. As soon as the sun comes out, it's really busy.
We have a growing, volunteer team but that has its own challenges because volunteers come and go very quickly – much faster than anticipated. As part of our sustainability plans, we are trying to find someone for a part-time role involving fund-raising and communication for Poole Missional Communities.
Diocesan funding came to an end in August 2011 after three years and we are now independent financially. As a result, we need to make some more applications to funders and attempt to increase the numbers of individuals who give to PMC. We are also promoting PMC in the local area, suggesting that people might want to give to PMC as a mission organisation to unchurched people on their doorstep. We highlight the fact that we are very local and deliberately so. In a further development, local churches are encouraged to become partner churches with PMC.
This is all positive but I don't think that's ever going to get us to a point where we might be able to fund a minister's salary and housing costs. We are in the process of applying for funding from various organisations, including the Church Commissioners, but it is very time-consuming.
Taking on the cafe had an interesting impact on Reconnect with four to five people joining us - one way or another - as a result of having the shop. I had shied away from premises right from the start because we didn't want to describe ourselves as, 'the church that meets in a specific place'. Our focus was on the unconventional but now, for three Sundays out of four, Reconnect meets in the café! But things are happening as a result of that. One lady, not from a church background, started coming to Reconnect because she had been in the café during the week, saw our notices and asked about it.
It's great seeing new people but it raises the issue of how we maintain that.
We are not simply another church with a slightly different approach; we are a missional community trying to engage incarnationally wherever we are. Holding on to that vision is proving to be challenging.
Work:space continues in Barclays, RNLI and the local government offices. We are still continuing to offer relaxation and space and stillness with work:space but it's certainly not church as such. We are asking if we are at a point where we could say to people, 'What would discipleship look like for you in your workplace? Could we create something in the offices where we meet?'
It's difficult to see how we can add to work:space in terms of further time together. It's hard enough to get people to leave their desks for a quiet half hour – never mind do anything in addition to that. The work environment is so pressurised now for most people, to meet for another 'thing' would be hugely challenging. As it is, it takes huge commitment and discipline from those really committed to their faith to take 30 minutes out of a busy day.
The need to take a break is something I was reminded of because I got to a point where I was pretty worn out and ministry had stopped being fun. The café added another layer for which I was ultimately responsible and I was suffering from 'decision overload'. My answer was to take a couple of weeks to enjoy time with friends and family and remember that unless you take leisure and friendships seriously, you will wither. The important thing for me is to continue to preserve my role as a pioneer and get the point where others are managing the café and overseeing newer elements of the ministry here.
Conversations are continuing about the way forward but I'm hoping and praying for the support of a skilled, experienced fund-raising/marketing person and the possibility of Poole Missional Communities becoming a training partnership so that we could take on two pioneer curates. There are a couple of specific areas on our patch which need to have focused support and planning; one is a high rise housing block in a deprived estate which needs an Eden Network-style approach in forming church/'doing' church around the community.
There is also big area of new housing stock going up on the other side of a new bridge in Poole. Thinking of what Bart Woodhouse has done at The Beacon in Dartford, we should be looking for someone now to talk to the developers and council about what kind of community there could be in that area. I don't think I'm the person to do that.
Our Wild Spirit series of outdoor events for men is also continuing and we will run a retreat again in the summer. I'm hopeful that it will attract a handful of non-Christian men who nonetheless want to explore some spiritual matters as well as the great outdoors.
I can look at all of these things because we have grown and developed as a community and I think we have a greater confidence as a result of what we have seen God doing here.