St Ives Methodist Church (SIMC), Cambridgeshire, has celebrated its first Café Church wedding. Claire Winpenny and Jonathan Eason tied the knot earlier this month at a service led by the Church's minister, Matt Finch, who tells the story.
Jonathan and Claire found out about SIMC's Café Church on a rainy Saturday when we opened the doors for people to look around as part of a heritage weekend. The Church was set up and ready to go for a Café service the following morning; they were intrigued, returned the next day and haven't stopped coming since. At Café Church they found a place to ask questions, discuss faith and reflect on their own spiritual journeys in a relaxed atmosphere. When they decided to get married, they came to me to ask if a Café wedding would be possible.
This posed a dilemma. Was Café Church suitable for the formal, and legal, requirements of a wedding? We didn't know of a precedent for it but we were very much aware that Café Church continually surprises and delights us; new faces have become familiar friends as we have sat, talked and worshipped in this format once a month. SIMC had already celebrated Christenings and thanksgivings within the Café Church framework, so why not a wedding?
The Café has been running for five years here and has shifted from an occasional service to the main act of worship on the third Sunday of every month at 10.30am. It is planned, set up and led by a committed group of people who are passionate about Café Church and the way it places hospitality and community at the heart of worship.
But we have always had to face the nagging question about being 'proper church' or not. Our journey seems to have been that, with patience and time, Café Church has emerged as a Christian community – with God bringing in just the right people at just the right moment. The answer to this question of 'proper church' has been a slowly unfurling 'YES' as we have discovered we are actually exploring and expressing the mystery of faith as church has always done. The difference is in the presentation and the café style but there is no difference at all in the gospel message of hope and transformation. It has been a joy and an adventure exploring the seasons of the Christian calendar, and themes of faith, with fresh eyes and new perspectives. This adventure has also provided fresh revelations to people of all ages and across the spectrum of church experience.
As a result, with the Café community growing, the way it expresses its faith has grown alongside it. In 2014, SIMC celebrated Easter through Café Church. It was a great moment as 140 people, some of whom had never been to church on Easter Sunday, gathered around tables with prayer, laughter and activities to mark the celebration at the heart of the Christian faith.
So, after Claire and Jonathan's request, the Café team came together with the couple to plan the wedding. There was a lot to do! An 8ft, 'pop-up' maple tree in the middle of the church was laden with Bible verses speaking of God's love, all of which were printed on card. A box of activities was also produced for each table, including:
- inflatable globes to blow up as conversation starters to find out where people had travelled from to be there on the day;
- cards on which people could write prayers for the couple. These prayers were then sealed in envelopes and given to Jonathan and Claire to open in years to come;
- guests were invited to take 'selfies' at the ceremony and upload the images live to Twitter and Facebook to build a virtual memory of the day for Jonathan, who has a brain injury and struggles with memory loss.
The identity of SIMC has changed since Café became a regular feature in our life together. Our vision has never been to form another church but rather to have, at our heart, a form of worship that connects with people beyond the normal church boundary. Nor has our aim been to get Café worshippers to learn how to sit through more formal acts of worship. We want people to find faith, and we are glad if that is either through Café Church or – as some have done – by coming through Café to be part of our regular weekly services. Inevitably, in our mixed economy, some folk are very definitely aligned to Café while others only worship on non-café Sundays, but there are many others who bridge the gap between the two and are amazed at what God is doing in both!