Monday, 1 November, 2010

A Fresh Expressions vision day inspired teacher Katharine Crowsley to ask a lot of questions about what God wanted her to do in her area. She tells the story of what happened next.

Cook@Chapel - mixing

I was interested in fresh expressions of church when I booked for the vision day in Milton Keynes but I had no idea what that would mean in practical terms. That was two years ago; I'm amazed at what has happened since and how things continue to develop.

My church is Hanslope Methodist Chapel in Buckinghamshire; it's very family friendly but I wondered if we were reaching young people - not only our own young people but all those other young people in the wider community? As a secondary school teacher, I feel quite comfortable with that age range and so was happy to consider something specifically for them.

Cook@Chapel - sugar

One thing that really stood out for me from that vision day was the story of the 'bread-making church' in Liverpool. For me, it prompted the big questions of, 'What does God want me to do?', 'How is God looking for me to serve my area?'

Somewhere Else was established in a very different geographical and social context to ours with theirs being an inner city church and ours in a very rural area. However, I really liked the idea of praying and worshipping, talking about Jesus when cooking, and then eating a meal together. A lot of teenagers don't want to necessarily sit around and talk to you but many of them will have a conversation while they are doing something else.

Cook@Chapel - bowl

As a building, the Hanslope Chapel really lends itself to this initiative. About three years ago, a new kitchen extension was added and the schoolroom totally refurbished. This means we can prepare the food there and eat there too. Perfect!

When I went to the Church Council for their support, they asked me to test it out first. I linked up with a community food worker and we did a six-week trial before I applied for a grant. We drew up different menus and asked if we could do it for those aged 12 (Year 7) to 16. We got the go ahead to run it for the academic year from September to July, and we've just started our second year.

The Methodist Church gave us a fresh expressions grant with our Chapel and local community having to match fund it. The money was found and we got underway. We run Cook@Chapel on Friday evenings for two hours and about 7-9 young people come along, we couldn't accommodate any more than that. Jamie Oliver has fired a lot of interest in cookery among young people but it is our volunteers who have been the experts. I have had to learn a lot myself; it was quite a challenge because I'm not a particularly confident cook! We generally have one main volunteer and a team of two more who will stand in if necessary. The cookery worker has now moved on but is still involved on a consultancy basis.

Cook@Chapel - table

Young people don't do so much cookery at school now so they tell us what they would like to learn and we do it – things like cheese sauce, chilli con carne, tortillas and lemon drizzle cake. They like all the chopping up and making things, doing things from scratch.

After we've made the food we sit down and eat it together; it's very informal – they really, really like that. They also like to take it in turns to say grace using our grace dice. Conversations around the table and while cooking can be about all sorts of things, a lot depends on who we have got there and also who the volunteers are. Originally I thought I would need young volunteers to link to these young people but I was wrong. The older people have been ideal, they relate to our 'cooks' in a different way and sometimes they can talk to them very much more comfortably about faith issues.

Cook@Chapel - quiche

It's fairly equal in terms of male female ratio but there are more boys wanting to join. However they are not allowed to join until Year 7 as we decided that Cook@Chapel should just be for secondary age young people. We don't advertise at all; most of it is word of mouth recommendation.

We did some outreach into the village hall to reach other young people but that didn't work. The only ones who came were those already part of Cook@Chapel so we had to think again about what is right for a particular group of people. Cook@Chapel was building community as a fresh expression of church but we wanted to nurture these young people as they began to explore more of the Christian faith.

Cook@Chapel - pasty

The young people who come to Cook@Chapel don't necessarily come to our church, in fact only two to three of them do but questions about faith and spirituality come up quite naturally again and again.

Following up on that I became involved in a youth service called Cross Purposes that takes place every month in nearby town Newport Pagnell, about five miles away. It's a joint Anglican, Methodist, URC and Baptist project at Newport Pagnell United Reformed Church but a lot of its planning and delivery is done by the young people themselves. My vision is to link Cook@Chapel to Cross Purposes - It's not too difficult a leap when it's young people inviting young people to go along and find out more. As we look ahead to 2011 and beyond, we pray that will happen.

Updates to, and learning points from, this story

Monday, 17 February, 2014 On Demand clip

Katharine Crowsley updates the story of Cook@Chapel in Hanslope, near Milton Keynes.

Monday, 15 April, 2013

Katharine Crowsley tells how a 'mixing bowl of prayer' has helped to develop Cook@Chapel.