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.

The Spurriergate Christian Centre and cafe

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.

Paul & Liz Holgate with Jessica, in front of their courgette plants

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.


Cafe Philo in York

St. Paul’s, Holgate

I’ve just had a really good week on placement at St. Paul’s, Holgate, on the SW side of York. It’s the first part of the “Fresh Expressions” course run at Cranmer. The vicar, John Lee, is a quiet personality whose understated style nevertheless goes with clear vision and strong leadership. He’s passionate about building good teams, and sees it as his task to choose people who are “better than himself” – which is a great approach to the task! Modest he may be, but he’s clearly astute in selecting and handling people.

Pig & Pastry – the location for the Cafe Philo event.

On Wednesday evening I went to a “Cafe Philo” event at the “Pig & Pastry” on Bishopthorpe Road. It’s event that grew out of a men’s Bible study run by Julian Richer, the business entrepreneur, and loosely follows the form of Cafe Philos in Paris.

There were about 40 of us there, with good supplies of food (including pork pies!). We were all invited to come up with suggestions for topics to discuss, and about 10 were put forward. These were put to a vote – we had unlimited votes, but only the top three topics were discussed. These included the power of the media – which eventually focussed on Rupert Murdoch’s influence – and on whether those on benefits should work for them.

The event was moderated by Julian himself, who is a lively and opinionated compere – more Alan Green than David Dimbleby!  Discussion flowed freely, with most people contributing at some stage or another.

It was an excellent event that would work well in different places – although the format probably appeals more to readers of broadsheet newspapers than to those of the Sun.  The church connection was not obvious, which may or may not be an advantage.

On Friday I visited the men’s Bible study which Julian runs. It was a most refreshing experience! There’s a great cameraderie amongst the guys who are there, many of whom are businessmen, and it is a relaxed environment in which both seekers and established Christians can discuss freely.

In the evening I nipped back to Durham briefly, stopping off at Greatham Creek to see the seals – which were lounging around in their usual style!

Seals at Greatham Creek


This weekend hasn’t quite worked out as planned… I’d intended a couple of days of solid essay writing, combined with attending the final service at Whinfield, the church plant in Haughton-le-Skerne that is being re-merged; but that all evaporated when a mild cold I’d been harbouring decided to take over.

Top: Mallard; middle: Bauxite no. 2, an industrial shunter; bottom: the Flying Scotsman, in pieces in the workshop.

Before that happened, I went down to the National Railway Museum in York. [By the way, trains are very much ‘in’ here at Cranmer. As soon as he heard I was going, Russell – normally a cool dude – told me that the Sir Nigel Gresley (twin of Mallard) was going to be passing through Durham the next day, arriving at 7.29 and leaving at 7.31… And John used to work in rail safety (handling multi-million pound contracts) at Henry Williams, a Darlington firm that has existed for over a hundred years.]

The railway museum was a great chance to re-live my cildhood fascinaton with trains. (I thought I’d grown out of it… it appears I was wrong!) They give pride of place to Mallard, which is the first engine you see on arrival, and one could look around the cab as well. However I was just as fascinated by some of the less glitzy engines, such as the black industrial shunter Bauxite no. 2, which a sign describes as “cared for, but not restored”. There was also a talk given in the workshop about the restoration work currently going on, including the Flying Scotsman – the first engine to do 100mph, designed to bring Edinburgh within 8 hours of London.

The museum is due to close for a year for a re-design; it would be interesting to see whether they introduce more of a narrative to the  museum – which is where Darlington’s much smaller Head of Steam railway museum excels.

Last Saturday, I had the unexpected treat of going to a Royal Scots Guards dinner. David Bryan is the chaplain of the Durham & Yorkshire division, so I joined him on the top table. We were therefore processed into the room behind bagpipes! It was a very pleasant, congenial evening, and great to hear some of the stories. A major from London brought news of the regiment, which is expected to provide the manpower for the upcoming increased British numbers in Afghanistan. He posed an interesting condundrum: do we defeat the enemy to protect the people, or do we protect the people to defeat the enemy? The strategy chosen is the latter.