'Quite a lot has changed since our story was first told to Fresh Expressions,' says Anne Middleton. But the Hope Theatre Café organiser and her minister husband, Revd Darren Middleton, are delighted that the major difference comes in the shape of their 13-month-old daughter Grace…
This year we have a limited season of events in March, June and July; partly because it is just so difficult to organise anything with a baby! But also because Darren and I are putting on a Passion Play in the circuit in the week leading up to Good Friday.
Our first event this year will be on March 5 with Silhouette Theatre Company. We'll then have a break in April and May for the Passion; then we welcome Lantern Theatre Company in June to perform The Hiding Place. Gospel illusionist Steve Price will be our guest in July.
We are still at Christchurch URC/Methodist in Fairwater, Cardiff, and the URC have been brilliant at funding us as a mission group. They gave us quite a large grant to set up the café in the first place and then we had another grant to help us get, amongst other things, a projector; this will also mean that we can offer film afternoons for older people in the community.
We have had two successful seasons of Hope Theatre Cafe. We continue to see it very much as a place where people can bring friends and family. For instance, a lot of husbands come along who don't go to church because Hope Theatre Café is very 'neutral' territory. Someone has even said, ironically, 'you wouldn't get me in a church'. We are in a community hall building so they don't think of us as being 'church-y' at all.
A few of those who have been to a performance then come into the church but it's a very gradual process. The local Churches Together group is very supportive of what we do and see it as a local resource.
It's encouraging that the Hope Theatre cafe team is growing. It's good that two couples from the church have committed to helping to run it, along with the faithful woman who organises the refreshments. Darren is training the two men up to do the technical side of things. At the moment no-one wants to take on the organising of the theatre bookings but it is good to see these other leaders coming through at this stage. I really hope that they will step up even more this year as it's possible that Darren and I will be moving on in two years. It is our hope that Hope Theatre Café will continue without us.
On the first Saturday evening of each month from February to July, Christchurch URC/Methodist Church is transformed into a café style performance venue. Revd Darren and Anne Middleton explain more.
The audience will be seated around small tables and treated to free tea, coffee and home made cakes! The café will open at 7pm and the performance will start at 7.30pm.
Each month there will be a different professional Christian performer – theatre company, singer, musician or mime artist to name a few – who will share their message of the hope that they have in knowing Jesus, through their chosen art form. The performance will last for about an hour and a half and will be followed by a prayer and an opportunity to stay to chat or pray with someone if they wish.
The reason for Hope Theatre Café is that we want to provide a non-threatening venue to invite the local community to hear a message of hope through the accessible medium of theatre and the arts. The arts have a way of transcending barriers, of reaching the bits of us that other mediums just cannot reach. We have nothing against preaching a good gospel message but we have both been involved in theatre and the arts for many years and have experienced how powerful they can be.
If this article or our interview on the podcast has excited you or left you wondering what on earth we are on about, then come and visit Hope Theatre Café at Christchurch URC/Methodist Church. Come and engage ALL your senses: smell the coffee, taste the wonderful baking, see the transformation of the building, and feel the stress of the week drain away, as you engage with the hope we have in a wonderful saviour.