Xpressions Café - Oct14

Tuesday, 14 October, 2014

Richard Seel and Alison Ball update the story of Xpressions Café, a fresh expression of church bringing together a rural community in Norfolk.

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Transcript

Richard Seel, NSM Assistant Priest: We're in the Chet Valley Benefice which consists of a number of villages, Loddon is the largest and Chedgrave, where we are, is the second largest. There's farming but there's also quite a lot of commuting into Norwich. Norwich is no more than 20 minutes' drive from here and so we get a mix of professional and more working class families. It's really rather a nice place to live.

The church is in the centre of the village, although a bit hidden away, so some people who live here don't even know it's here! It's just a lovely little church with a good atmosphere and feel to it but what it has that singles it out is a 20-year-old, two-storey extension, very tastefully done, which gives us amazing space and flexibility of space.

I came here because Nigel, the vicar, was committed to mission and committed to developing people; both of which are really important to me – and it was a great opportunity.

Alison Ball, OLM Curate: There is a preconception that in rural areas people are resistant to change, very conservative, don't like new ideas, but I think that's something that ought to be challenged really. There are a lot of people who perhaps are not used to thinking that there are different ways of doing things and when things are presented to them, they might like to have a go. It's good to encourage people and get them involved and I think it's as much an idea in people's minds than an actuality that people are resistant to change.

Richard Seel: Xpressions Café is the fresh expression we have here in Chedgrave and it has three areas, three parts to it. The core is Xpresso, which is a café open from 10-12 with as much tea, coffee, juice, cake, Sunday papers, as you want – all free, come and go as you please.

Upstairs is Xpressions which is focused particularly on families, craft activities, songs, prayers, stories. And, in the church, we have Xplore which is in two parts at the moment. There's a discussion that happens every Sunday and then we invite everyone to come together for a final session in the church which is a kind of multimedia, alternative worship kind of approach.

The café, Xpresso as we call it, is at the heart of everything in Xpressions Café. It is, it is a 'third place' if you like – it's like 'Perks' ('Central Perks' in Friends) or the bar in Cheers – it's the place where people can meet; it's neutral. And, quite early on, we came to the decision that we would not do anything 'religious' in the café. In fact, we did for a time talk about it as a 'God-free zone' which, of course, is nonsense but it got the point across. You can invite anyone there and they will be 'safe' and the first value that we ever articulated was extravagant hospitality, so the tea, the coffee, the juice are all Fairtrade but they're also good. We have Sunday papers there so you can just come, have coffee, chat, or just sit on your own and read the papers and, if you want to do anything else, that's entirely up to you.

Female interviewee 1: Café's special because it's not regimented, you can do what you want when you want. So you can go and get a drink when you want to, you can have a piece of cake when you want to which is even more important! This style of church, it works really well for us; my oldest son has got learning disabilities so he is not very good at concentrating and there's lots of more practical activities that the children do - as well as some of the more traditional Sunday School things - so there's not just crafts and paper-based activities but there's also... we sometimes have games and a bit of cooking and things as well and that works really well but also they're free to move about the church and go downstairs and things like that. Also [I've got] my husband doesn't believe but he can come in and have a drink and isn't bothered by the fact that it's church because nobody really talks about church in Café - so there's always something in Café that is going to be of interest to any member of the family really.

Male interviewee 1: I think you attract more people this way than what you do in just open church. O yes. I know that because I've noticed the difference that happened when we started it, it attracted so many people in. It's nice to see the young with the old, together. I think that's a lovely thing.

Alison Ball: Villages are smaller communities obviously than towns and a lot of people still tend to know each other so, if they come along to church, it's harder to hide; most people will have an idea, will know other people. It's difficult to be anonymous, people like to bring you in and join you in to things but, at the same time, you can come along to a fresh expression and actually just come and 'be' if you don't want to do more than that.

Female interviewee 2: Neither me, not my partner, before we arrived here were particularly religious. We always kind of toyed with the idea but church never seemed for us because it was never a place you would actually go but it was just coming and actually having a place where you could discuss your views freely, listen to other people's opinions and seek guidance. You know we've had a difficult year; I've lost both my brother and my dad very quickly and we've received a lot of comfort and support through the church and through the individuals here as a community here. We've been fully accepted.

Richard Seel: Upstairs we have Xpressions - everything is branded with an X. And Xpressions is family oriented, we always have a theme - every Sunday has a theme -and it's nearly always taken from the Lectionary so we're quite traditional Anglican in many ways and some of our older kids who have come up through our holiday club are now helpers in that and they are leaders; they're brilliant with the younger children.

In the church we have Xplore (and Xplore is again spelled with an X) where, at about half past ten, there will be a discussion on the theme. We set up a table in the chancel, people might sit round it and you get quite a diverse range of people there; from some very committed Christians to people who would certainly not use that label of themselves. And at 11.30 normally we would invite everyone to come into Xplore together.

Male interviewee 2: Well, our theme today is, 'What are you wearing?' So our whole Café Church is based around that. I'm helping co-lead the end service with Richard, the vicar, and we're wearing different uniforms. I'm wearing my Captain's uniform and he'll be in his full priest's regalia. It's my first time leading the end service so I'm a bit nervous but I'm sure he'll help me and it'll be good. I really love Café Church, I've been coming for the last two years and, from being a non-churchgoer to a regular churchgoer, it's changed my life really. I really enjoy it.

Alison Ball: Something like a fresh expression that we have here is a real delight. It allows parents to come along with their children, it allows people with no children to come along; it's a real coming together of the community really and we're able to offer a much wider range of things than we could before. We have drawn people from across the churches in our Benefice within our community and there's just a greater freedom really in what we can offer and how we can help people engage with God, which is great.

Richard Seel: The way we are kind of handling discipleship; our aim is that everybody who has anything to do with Xpressions Café in any way will feel able to come to planning meetings, we have a monthly planning meeting, and to participate in the creation of the Cafes to come and, indeed, to step up and say, 'I'd like to lead'. And the thing about that is, once you're in leadership you kind of have no choice but to actually be discipled.

Female interviewee 3: Initially I was surprised that a journey would take me like this. I wouldn't, for one minute, think I'd have the confidence to stand up in front of 50 people and talk to them and [that] the whole work that we put into that last half hour session in the church. I'm helped by so many people and I've got confident in what I'm saying.

Alison Ball: The rural church is said to be dying on its feet and there is a little bit of truth in that in some ways; we know that our regular congregations are becoming smaller as the older people that were the mainstays of them have died off or moved away, sadly, and there are not so many families coming in, younger people, coming into our traditional church. However, I would challenge very seriously the notion that the rural church is dying. If you find ways to engage with people, perhaps that are culturally appropriate, people are interested. They want to explore, they want to come along, so we've found that a good number of people who wouldn't normally go to traditional church have come along to see what's going on; they're quite excited when you challenge them on their spiritual ideas and where they are. It's good.

This story is an update to:

Comments

So encouraging. A place to ask questions in a welcoming environment is very important.

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