David Barker spent three years as a fresh expressions enabler in the West Yorkshire District. While in post, he launched a variety of different things including youth cell groups, all-age church and church in sheltered housing accommodation. He is still involved in a church in a bar, known as Bare Soul.
Church in a bar works like a spiritual open mic night. There's a different theme each time and people are encouraged to bring along songs, poems, a piece of art or something that they have made (especially if it is cake!). These sometimes have very tenuous links with what we're thinking about in that session but everything is welcome! Among the themes we've explored so far are peace, hope and joy. These can be interpreted in a number of different ways, in an attempt to engage people who are not regular churchgoers – though many are spiritual seekers. I also run a gospel choir and there is a lot of cross over between the two communities.
The bar is based in the Bare Arts Gallery in Todmorden in what are off-sales premises for a micro brewery. The brewer is the owner and his wife is an artist who specialises in painting nudes, hence the gallery name.
The brewer heard about us doing church in another pub and said, 'can you come here and do that?' He and his wife love it and like to tell their customers that 'church comes to us once a month'. They are really supportive and get people to come along: they are our best evangelists. The numbers vary because it's in the main bar area which means that some people just happen to be in the room when it happens and get subjected to it, many asking when it is happening again!
We have been going since December 2009 and usually have between 15 and 25 people coming along. A team of us, who play in a band together, help to set it up each time. We act as the house band on the night with me generally acting as MC, though it tends to be with a very light touch – we don't make a big thing of setting up 'church' on the premises or anything like that. It can be a little nerve-wracking at times as you never know if anyone is going to bring anything or what they might bring. There have been quite a few opportunities for discussions but we haven't got to the point of interesting people in Alpha or anything – mainly because the people who come are in a different place to that. They are starting much further back.
It's all about building relationships and introducing Christian spirituality because this context is one in which there is a very arty community and a very spiritual community. They're interested in all sorts of things and we're delighted to have the chance to be part of that.