So – what should we do to revive the Church in this country? That was the underlying question for the week-long “Fresh” course I’ve just completed in York with about a dozen others, four of whom were also from Cranmer.
To answer this question, we looked at a variety of “Fresh Expressions”, or different ways to be doing church. I’ll highlight a couple that were particularly good.
Just down the road from where we had the course was the Spurriergate Centre – which looks, on the surface, just to be a former church which has been turned into a cafe. Indeed, it was de-consecrated for that purpose, and it is certainly successful in that role. What makes it different, though, is that the centre also provides pastoral counselling and prayer for those who need it. Through the conversations staff have with customers, a number of enquirers groups have taken place. As a result the centre now opens on a Sunday to worship God and have fellowship around a full meal – so that the church which was converted into a cafe is now morphing back into a church again!
We also visited the Gateway Christian Centre in Acomb, a suburb of York. The cafe theme is important here as well, serving a large shopping centre. They’ve taken over a former primary school building which has been renovated over the past ten years. They run a number of ministries as well – probably the most significant is the debt counselling service, which is run as an extension of CAP (Christians Against Poverty). This is having a major impact on individual lives; people only tend to seek this ministry when they are “pretty much sunk”. They discover that God cares for them, even when they are in the mire.
One of the delights of the last couple of weeks in York has been to make new friends – none more so than my hosts, Paul and Liz Holgate. Some years ago, while they were still in South Africa, they planted a Vineyard Church in a pub. They found it a very effective environment for leading people to Christ who have little experience of the church. Actually it doesn’t take long to realise why they were good at it – they are very warm and hospitable people, who naturally make one feel welcome. Since coming to the UK they ran a deli for a number of years, so they have the expertise and gifting to be able to run a cafe venture again.