Hot Chocolate - update Jul13

Monday, 22 July, 2013

Charis Robertson updates the story of Hot Chocolate in Dundee.

Duration: 11:38   | Download Download video (flv) | Download Download video (wmv) | View on YouTube


Charis Robertson: Back in 2001 there was someone on placement with the Steeple Church who was studying theology and youth work and her task was really to do youth work with the church young people. However, she was looking out on the grass and just outside the walls of the Steeple Church there was a large community of young people who congregated and there was quite a history of alternative culture young folk that hung out on the grass – and they had done for a couple of decades actually. And so she went to the leadership of the Steeple and said any chance that I could be released to go and get to know the young people outside. And the Steeple were delighted with that and freed her up so she and a small team of volunteers at the time went out to get to know the young people. And it was cold and it was November and so they went out originally with cups of hot chocolate. Hence the name, because the young people started calling that encounter Hot Chocolate.

Three years after the original encounter with young people on the grass, Hot Chocolate became an independent organisation, an independent charity, and slightly went their separate ways but still very close ties with the Steeple, supported in terms of free premises, utilities, cupboards, you know, very low overheads as a result, lots of volunteers, lots of prayer support, really good will from the Steeple. So it's been quite an interesting context to have something growing up alongside the institutional church and actually despite setting out with no agendas and no set plans with the young people, God has definitely been at work and faith stuff has been bubbling up and we're trying to catch up with God I suppose, you know we see that he's at work and we're trying to say 'God, what are you doing now and how can we get alongside you'. And I suppose that's been part of the missional story of Hot Chocolate, is the missio dei, God is at work, it's God's responsibility, it's God's mission and we have the privilege of being alongside and asking how we can support and how we can help God, it's not the other way round.

Dave Close:I think right from the beginning we've been about building relationships, about building community with young people rather than providing services for young people or providing activities for young people. So it's from the beginning been a collaborative enterprise with the young people themselves, so what has been built has been built as much by them as by us.

Male voice 1: Well I'd say Hot Chocolate's kinda… it's like home away from home, it's more like… I don't know, I feel really close to everyone that comes to it, the youth workers and just… the youth workers are like friends, well obviously on a professional level but you know you can come to them with stuff for support and all that and it's like it feels a lot homely because it's like we've got a big input in what goes on the walls, where the furniture goes, how things are decorated so you feel like 'I helped build this' so it's kinda like my own home. Hot Chocolate's really important when bad things happen… a couple of year ago a good friend and a young person here sadly took his life and all of us were destroyed and Hot Chocolate helped – they took us to the funeral, they made sure we were ok, everyone got there all right and just offered groups for us to come in and have a talk or even just a one to one if we were feeling really down and really upset about it. They held like a… they took us up to where it happened and let us make things to put on the tree and all that so it was quite… it was quite good. It was really helpful and it was a really dark time but I think the fact that we all banded together kind of like a family and we got through it.

Female voice 1:I was brought up a as a Christian but I think for a while had really not been a Christian at all and didn't appreciate church at all, found it quite a negative experience, and when I came to Hot Chocolate in 2009 as a volunteer, I felt that it was a very spiritually welcoming place, I could explore some of the doubts and questions that I had about the faith that I grew up with and it was a really safe environment to really start questioning deeply some of those things that were going on.

Dave Close: The team was made up of a small handful of paid staff and then a much larger team of volunteers and those volunteers are drawn both from the Steeple Church where we're based, from other churches around the city and also from other backgrounds, so they might have come to us as students on community learning and development placements, and frequently those students will carry on volunteering with us after that. They may have just come through relationships, friendships, in lots of different ways.

Before the open sessions the team will eat together, will share devotions as well as briefing times. There's a full-bloodedness to that missional living that I think is very appealing. For members of the team who are not Christians, there's a focus in the difference that is made in the lives of the young people and a quality of youth work that is both of a professional quality but also of a deeply human quality, that they respond to.

Female voice 2: I've met all my friends here, all my best friends are here now and that's been over the space of seven years that I've had friends in the beginning and then made bonds with them and then lost friends but I've still got like my closest friends that have been here for all the years. And I've got friends with like the team members here as well, like I could speak to them about everything. They've helped me through a lot of rough stages that I've been through in the past and I've came, instead of speaking to my family I've thought the first thing was, I'll speak to someone here and every single time they've helped me out, without doubt helped me loads.

Male voice 2: I was pulled towards Christianity in the beginning with other projects and in the beginning that opened my mind up to belief, not just Christianity but belief and faith and an open mind really, and people from Hot Chocolate supported that and listened and answered a few questions and just made me feel comfortable like I wasn't odd to feel what I feel. And it's been a bit of a journey and I feel like they've been there along that journey.

Female voice 2:In the beginning I thought prayer was quite strange because I didn't understand it at all but as I said, I've just begun to… team members have described to me a lot more why they're doing it and what they feel when they're doing it and it's made me understand it so much more, to the point of when they've been doing prayers I asked them to pray for my little sister and I believe it's helped me, like I've find out that my sister's got a lot better recently and there's a big part of me that believes it's because I've been praying for her as well.

David Clark:The relationship between the Steeple Church and Hot Chocolate is a good relationship, it's an interesting relationship. Obviously the Steeple Church is part of a big denomination, it's an institutional context, but we recognise the importance of Hot Chocolate as a creative edge of mission into the city centre community and therefore to be involved and relating with Hot Chocolate is extremely important. A relationship through which we learn much and I hope they find the support of the Steeple Church important to them.

Charis Robertson: As Hot Chocolate's gone on we've become more clear in our missional theology around belonging, believing and behaving and how the entry point really for  Hot Chocolate is around belonging. And part of our life is God and is following Jesus so that inevitably comes up. So I think Hot Chocolate is quite different from a lot of youth work organisations that are church-based in that we don't do God slots and we're not here to convince the young people of anything. I think what we're here to do is join a journey with them because actually a lot of the young people are really open spiritually, have a whole ton of questions and have a large experience of God revealing himself in their lives.

Male voice 3: To me Hot Chocolate is my church, it's a place where a community of friends really and family come together and get the chance to explore God and religion in an open and safe environment. I think Hot Chocolate's helped me become a leader by giving me the opportunity to go to Romania and lead that bible camp or Christian camp, I don't know what you want to call it. And there are opportunities to do devotions with the team and I've often had the chance to lead that.

Dave Close: Most of the youth work that we do at Hot Chocolate is immediately engaging young people in the leadership of their own activities and plans and the responsibility for Hot Chocolate as a space belongs to them as a community. So building leadership within Hot Chocolate is a very natural thing and eleven years on there's a deeply entrenched culture and expectation of that kind of responsibility and growth.

Charis Robertson: We see that something is emerging, we're not sure what that's going to look like, but there are people that are beginning to say that Hot Chocolate is their church and is their primary spiritual community and that's really exciting and it's also a little bit scary 'cos we don't know what that's going to look like. But I think the long term vision for Hot Chocolate and for the faith community is around what a contextualised church looks like – and I know that that's big jargon and a kind of emerging church word, fresh expressions word, but for us that means for people that have grown up through the organisation, what would it be like for them to lead the church? What would it be like for worship and prayer and liturgy to be written by them, that's completely relevant and owned by them, and I guess that's some of the things that we're looking to see develop and see nurtured within Hot Chocolate.

Every day is so different and we're so responsive to the needs of the young people and to the context – you know we open up the door and say, 'What kind of day is it today? What is God wanting to do today? What does the gospel look like for the young people today?' Sometimes that's a bowl of soup for someone that's not eaten since yesterday, sometimes that's someone's been kicked out of home so it's taking them to the homeless unit and getting them registered for a new house, sometimes that's, you know, they pick up a bible and say what's this all about. And every day is so different and I think that's part of the exciting thing about Hot Chocolate. It really is listening to God on a day by day basis.

Dave Close: If we can answer the question, 'How do we live good news together?', then that will look more like church than anything we try to do by saying 'this is church' and then modelling ourselves after it. In one sense it's risky and we don't know where it will take us. In another sense it's actually quite simple, we've got the perfect touchstone because we've… our touchstone is Jesus, who walks with us each step of the way.

This story is an update to:


Great to see the Hot Chocolate video guys - thanks for putting it up! This was one of the first projects we supported through the Emerging Ministries Fund in the Church of Scotland. Well done Alison! Well done Dave and Charis! Great to see you all again! Wishing you God's richest blessings from the Land of Oz! David.

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