Ealing soup kitchen

Over many years, 13 churches and Christian organisations in Ealing, West London, worked together to provide a soup kitchen for people on the edge of society. The kitchen was held at St John's Church on a Sunday afternoon.

In 2004, the churches and organisations involved decided to fund a worker for homeless people to provide continuity of care and advice every weekend afternoon. Daphne was appointed. Her vision was to minister not just to individuals' emotional and physical needs, but their spiritual ones as well.

She began to invite soup kitchen clientele to the reflective evening service held by St John's upstairs. Those who came could be disruptive, and they tended to sit at the back and watch. But one evening, the service was held café-style. People on the back row became involved and enjoyed it.

The church decided to do this every Sunday. Numbers from the soup kitchen have grown steadily. The original congregation was always pretty small. Some members of it became helpers and leaders in what was effectively a new congregation. Others have found a home in the morning worship.

In 2009, between 40 and 70 homeless and disadvantaged people were attending each week.

The event starts at 5.45, as the soup kitchen is winding down, and lasts for about an hour. People sit round tables, eat doughnuts and drink coffee. A band leads the music. Someone may come to the front to tell a story or give a testimony. There can be a talk, followed by discussion at the tables. Each table is hosted by someone who takes the initiative in introducing people and engaging in conversation. There are about ten leaders and helpers involved each Sunday.

Among those who come are people with childhood experiences of church, some who are Christians, some who know nothing about Christianity, some from other faiths and others who have been hurt by Christians in their past.

It will be interesting to see how this café church evolves. At present it feels a bit like conventional church done café-style for people who are disadvantaged. This has been wonderfully fruitful, but can it ever become church-shaped and led by people on the margins of society? Given the emotional and physical difficulties faced by those who come, this would be a huge challenge.