Cook@Chapel - update Feb14

Monday, 17 February, 2014

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

Duration: 11:21   | Download Download video (flv) | Download Download video (wmv) | View on YouTube


Katharine Crowsley: Hanslope is a small village about seven miles north of Milton Keynes. It's in quite a rural context. A lot of people here commute in and out of Milton Keynes for work and the young people who are involved in Cook@Chapel go to lots of different schools in the surrounding area.

Just over five years ago I felt that really the church didn't have much that was offered to children as they came to the age of about eleven or twelve and into the teenage years. And I thought there was a real need to be reaching out to young people within the village context and working with them, because there seemed to be an assumption that maybe at twelve that children would leave the church, and many children weren't involved or connected with the church at all. So I felt that there was a need here to do something to reach out to those young people.

I went to a vision day which was held in Milton Keynes and when I went to that there was a film about Barbara Glasson's bread-making church. And although that was in a really different context to this one, because it's in an urban context and this is a rural context, I liked the idea of working with food and using food as a way of reaching out to people, particularly young people. Because in my day job I'm a teacher and I'm quite aware that a lot of young people don't have so much opportunity to cook at school nowadays and a lot of families don't maybe sit down and eat a meal together and I thought that the idea of cooking and sharing food would be a good one. And what we found to start off with is the young people came and they joined Cook@Chapel for a bit and then they went and they moved on.

But then after a couple of years young people came and they stayed and what we saw was that more of a small community of young people was starting to grow up. And what we have now is a group of young people who've been involved with the group, with the small missional community that's building here, for about two years. And more and more have joined, particularly in the last year we've had six, seven, eight people join.

Male voice 1: I mainly come here for the cooking part which is… I suppose I think it will help me in my future life and it's all using ingredients which we either grow at home, which is good for the environment, or locally-bought. I can sometimes write a prayer, generally I pray for current events or if something personal's going on for someone I know.

Female voice 1: It's really good because it's like a social opportunity as well as church so it's kind of made me view church in a different way, like 'cos I kind of stopped going to church after a while just 'cos like getting up at 10am in the morning… it's just exhausting! And it was just really good to have it on a Friday night and have like friends around you and being able to talk to them, so it's made me view church in a completely different way.

Female voice 2: I'm not particularly religious but here, before we start to eat we have a prayer dice and we get someone to roll it and then say the prayer before we start to eat. And we have a mixing bowl of prayer before we even sit down at the table and it's just anybody who has anything to say and wants to write it down and get somebody else to read it out, they just put it in there. And yeah, it's not overbearing or anything, because as I said I'm not particularly religious myself and I don't find it awkward at all.

Katharine Crowsley: Sometimes we've found some conversations about spirituality came up quite naturally while you were cooking and preparing the food. For example when we were making things like pizza dough then we'd talk about the parable of the yeast while we were mixing the dough and some of those conversations came up really naturally. But what we've also done is to try to introduce times of prayer into Cook@Chapel – and that seems to have fitted very naturally as well. We've tried lots of different activities but one in particular has really stuck.

Female voice 1 (background): Dear God, thank you for the food…

Katharine Crowsley: And what happens there is we have a bowl and the young people put the prayers into the bowl and then pass it round from one to the other, reading out the prayers as they go. But what has been really positive about that was something that started off as a one-off activity and that we didn't intend to repeat has been something the young people have wanted to do again and again – they will go and get the bowl and bring it into the room to carry out that mixing bowl of prayer activity every week and it's formed a key focus of the worship time of our group.

Some of them have come from a church background, their parents attend church and they're quite confident within the development of their faith, whereas some of them come from a background – in fact many of them come from a background where they've not been involved with the church at all. One of the challenges of working with discipleship and developing discipleship with the young people, particularly those who haven't come from a church background, is that of language. Because they often haven't got the language that we'd assume that a lot of people have when talking about faith. And so you've got to start from a point where you can really connect with them and share language with them that they'll understand. One of the positive things about Cook@Chapel is that we've had young people involved as well who have got a well-developed Christian faith themselves and are confident about sharing that with others. And that does help because they'll put it into language that the other young people can understand. And the other thing is to keep things simple, to not go into using long technical terms but really to keep it on a simple focus to start off with and then to develop the discipleship as you go along.

To develop young people's faith holistically, one of the things we've tried to do as a community is to encourage the young people to share their faith and also to model Christian ways of behaving. So what we do within the group is when we're having a meal we really encourage each person to look after the other people around the table – to serve them, to make sure people have got enough food, to make sure people have got drinks, that they've found out what drink people would want – and to make sure as well when the conversations are going on around the table that no-one feels excluded or left out. Because we've got a vast range of ages here so some of the older children we encourage them to mentor and look after the younger ones and encourage them to feel involved and to feel part of the group.

What we're finding is the young people who come to Cook@Chapel are saying that they want to meet apart from just on a Friday evening, so this would be quite a natural way of moving things forward. And what we're thinking of doing is working with the older young people, maybe working on some of the Roots materials for young people, and discussing those, a little bit of Bible study, a little bit of questions that they might want to ask and discuss – because what I think we're going to get is a group of people who are at very different stages in their faith and that's why the discipleship is going to need to be really carefully tailored to meet those needs.

Some of them are obviously – they're getting older. Some of them are in the sixth form, approaching sixth form, so inevitably some will leave and go on to university. But others will stay in the area and I think it's very important that Cook@Chapel grows and develops with them. One of the things we're trying to do is encourage the older ones to take on more of a leadership role within the group and feel comfortable in trying to sustain Cook@Chapel and keep it going into the future. And I think they're going to need to think and take ownership of the group as they get older and decide how they want to move it forward as a fresh expression of church, rather than it being – as it is at the moment – a youth activity.

I started this fresh expression of church on my own but soon realised that you needed a team around you to support and help you develop things. And I'm really fortunate here at Cook@Chapel now that there is a team of people who work with me and help develop the ideas to take the fresh expression forward. And there are two really supportive members of the team who help come up with ideas for developing Cook@Chapel and ideas for fundraising as well. One of the things the young people did was they did a safari supper back in January where they cooked a meal for people and were raising money for people in Ho in Ghana and that was really successful because they cooked some Ghanaian food and then lots of people from the local village came in, ate the food, realised what Cook@Chapel were doing and were very very happy to support it.

Back in April we were very fortunate that one of the grandparents of one of the Cook@Chapel young people lent us his allotment and we worked with him and quite a few of the young people to grow lots of fruit and vegetables over the last six months and that culminated back in September with us putting a number of vegetables into the local horticultural show and cooking quite a lot of the vegetables for a meal here. So it's been really positive for the young people to grow the vegetables from scratch, to actually plant the seeds or plant the small plants, to watch them grow, to weed and then to harvest the vegetables later on and know where that food actually comes from. And also how much work goes into producing it.

I'm not really a cook, I'm not very good at cooking, so I think it was quite interesting that God called me to work with a cooking-related fresh expression. But there are other skills as well that I've needed to develop as well as the cookery – the cookery I've learnt alongside the children, but to develop other skills in trying to set up a small missional community and try and to mission work here within a rural context, I've started doing the CMS – the Church Mission Society – course in pioneer leadership and a course like that – and another course which I've attended, the mission shaped ministry course – are also really helpful in developing pioneer mission skills and then adapting them to the context that you're in.

When I go home after finishing off Cook@Chapel and I'm feeling quite tired because we've just been doing lots of washing up and clearing up I often look back on the evening and think, oh that's gone well, there's been a positive buzz about the atmosphere, and I'm hoping that what the young people are taking away is a developing faith in God and a knowledge that through Cook@Chapel, through this community, that that faith is developed and lived out and then shared in their everyday life.

This story is an update to:


Hi there,

This is inspiring. Hope to be able to talk to you about your project. I'm project leader for fundraising & strategy at One Can Trust in High Wycombe. Your model looks like fertile ground for us as we launch One Can Hope...

Will be in touch, or please call me on 07940 572342

Thank you!

Eli Merchant

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