Reconnect - update Aug12

Monday, 6 August, 2012

Paul Bradbury updates the story of Reconnect in Poole.

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Paul Bradbury: Eighteen months ago I was renting an office above this café, an office that I really felt that God had led me too, a real sense that this was a place where we... that was going to become a mission centre. Didn't quite know how that was going to turn out and now eighteen months later we find ourselves running this café. And it has really been quite a remarkable journey. We developed various things that we're doing in the café, groups that are running on the first floor - in the first floor lounge space, and then about three, four months ago the café went bust and we were presented with an opportunity to explore running it ourselves which seemed like a pretty ambitious thing to do. We looked at raising money, generating volunteers, refurbishing and we managed to do all of that, we raised ten thousand pounds in a matter of 24 hours at one point, recruited a café manager, somebody who knew how to run a café which is always an advantage, and so here we are running a café. We've been running for about three, four weeks now and it's been quite a roller coaster ride but definitely a sense that God has been in it.

When people enter this café they're not entering Christian space or church space, this is the church entering the world of the High Street so that people can walk in to this café and what they'll experience is not Christian culture, they'll experience a really good welcome they'll experience a really high level of hospitality, we hope that they'll experience love and blessing and perhaps a sense that God is there. But really it's about building relationships, it's about the local church building relationships with people outside of the reach of traditional church and using a café space in which to do that.

What's at the heart of this café is a missional community, a community of predominantly volunteers who are committed to being involved in this café. They sign up to a series of values which are inspired by the rule of life that Poole Missional Communities has at the centre of everything that it does. Most of those people are Christians but some of them aren't. And what we feel very strongly is that what we're committed to doing is doing mission with people, not mission to people, not mission for people, but mission with local people. So stuff that's inspired by the values of the kingdom of God, things around justice and the environment and loving and serving and blessing people. All stuff that is part and parcel of what it is to be part of the kingdom of God. We believe that people want to join in that sort of thing and we're experiencing that here. That people want to volunteer here, they want to serve people well, they want to serve people with love and hope which are the two values that we ask people to sign up to if they're not Christians. And through that they are becoming part of this missional community, they are joining the rhythm of prayer at the beginning and at the end of each day. And they feel very comfortable. So they're starting to belong in a community, a missional community, that has Christ at the very centre of it. And they can journey deeper into that community if they want to, if they don't want to that's absolutely fine, we've built a relationship with them, they're part of that community.

We set up Poole Missional Communities, it's a charitable company, it oversees all that we do and we're very clear that at the heart of Poole Missional Communities are a set of values expressed in a rule of life and that everything we do we refer back to those values and say is this expressing those values in some way. Is it incarnational, is it building relationships with people outside of the reach of traditional church, is there a sense... is there a kind of community element to it so that people are coming into community in some way. And so that helps us kind of hold together, gives us a real sense of we're not just sort of firing of initiative willy-nilly, we're doing something that has a very clear set of values at the core of it.

So it helps in that sense and it helps, it gives us a bit of structure, gives us a bit of accountability. We have a set of trustees who hold those values and are kind of guardians of those values which is really important. And it helps us financially as well, we can fundraise to that charity and give people a clear sense of what they're giving money to. And so it's helped in terms of financial sustainability, it's always going to be an issue, it's always going to be a tension I think, we haven't solved that one completely yet, but we are I think in a better position in terms of financial sustainability than we were eighteen months ago.

We were very clear that what we wanted to do was avoid the Sunday morning thing being the main thing of church. That that tends to use so much time and resources in terms of volunteers and funding and maintaining the place in which worship takes place. So our worship on a Sunday morning is very all-age and very participative and the idea is that the groups that take place in households can be, and are for many people, church. And they have a very missional focus to them, encouraging people to make relationships through various things in their workplace and in their streets and then perhaps that those places will be a context where people can come and explore faith. And we are finding that that is bearing fruit. We have two or three, four people who have... who come to a group on a Monday night, we eat, we share food around the table and then we commit to reading a chapter of the gospel each week and then just open the gospels and explore the gospel together using three very simple questions, you don't need to do a huge amount of preparation, the idea is that it's so simple that anybody could lead it.

Eighteen months ago we had a group that were really based around felt-making. We had two people in that initial missional community who were felt-makers and so we started running felt-making workshops to which a number of people came and enjoyed making felt and then the opportunity came about a year ago to move that into the first floor lounge here when the café was being run by somebody else. And that really became a community that we called space for life, it was about creating a space that in a sense was just a sort of step away from the business of normal life. It tends to be mums with kids at school, just come up, get a cup of coffee, do something creative. Into that we put just five minutes of stillness and quiet where a short passage from the bible is read and people are encouraged to reflect on that. And that community has grown and people have invited others, we've done workshops in other places which has also drawn people in and now there's a growing community of ladies meeting in this café on the first floor every week, doing all sorts of creative projects and always stopping for a moment of stillness during the morning.

I think our vision is to see small groups of people gathering around the gospels in very informal ways that are very inclusive, very low threshold for people from unchurched backgrounds. What we're seeing in the household I think could morph into lots of different contexts. It could be around the lunch table at work, it could be in this café with coffee and cake. All sorts of different times and different places can become places where people can simply gather, usually a bit of food and drink helps kind of oil the conversation, study the gospels, meet with this person Jesus who's at the heart of the gospels in very informal participative ways - and very simple ways. That it doesn't require huge amounts of training or huge amounts of money to resource that sort of thing. And maintain the principle of being small and being inclusive. One of the principles we have for the small groups is once it exceeds the amount of people you can fit round a table, it's time to multiply into two groups. So you can apply that principle anywhere and I think you could get a kind of rapid multiplication of small cell-like churches into lots of different contexts which could be incredibly powerful.

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