Vocation at the Café Church – Mar15

Matt Ward, Anglican chaplain at the Universities' Chaplaincy in Leeds, also oversees Emmanuel Café Church there. He explores why the Café Church is inspiring young adults to consider their vocation.

Last summer I attended the ordination service of a former member of Emmanuel Café Church and I am looking forward to going to another this year. Two previous Café Churchgoers are also currently in training and at least two more are actively exploring vocation to ordained ministry.

We're a small community which has been worshipping together for nine years, based in the chaplaincy at Leeds University and meeting every Sunday during term time at Claire Chapel, Emmanuel Centre. In many ways we're fragile, losing a significant number of our community each year as they graduate and move on. How have we managed to end up regularly seeing young people going forward for ordination? It wasn't something that we set out to achieve but it has certainly become part of our story.

I think that it is quite simple. It's all about encouraging people.

Emmanuel Café Church - listeningLooking back, there are probably four things that we have done which are important in encouraging people to think about vocation – and although I started by talking about ordinations it's important to think of vocation in the widest possible sense. It starts with recognising that we all have a vocation to be disciples, to be growing in our faith and working out how to live that – whatever the career path.

So what are the four things we have been doing? Basically, we have encouraged people:

to be involved

If you come to cafechurch you are part of our community, and if you're part of our community we want you to be involved. Some people have come for the first time and the next week have been taking an active part in leading the session. Others take a bit longer to feel that confident but are drawn into discussions and reflections. What's key is that people are gaining experience and discovering what leadership might be like. We also benefit from learning from each other and regularly experiencing different styles of leadership.

by listening to them

In many ways the joy of being a small community is that you can get to know people really well, but the key to that is giving time to people and listening to them. It is about discovering who people are, what excites them, what worries them, what their hopes and aspirations might be. Above all, it's about taking people seriously. When you do that, you begin to know when something is a real possibility or simply a wild dream.

by challenging them

Emmanuel Café Church - dog collarsAs you get to know people, as you pray for them and see them become part of the community, you sometimes get a sense that you need to ask a sharp question. It's important to be bold with that. That question at times has been, 'Have you thought about ordination?' And sometimes you have to ask the question more than once and, as you ask it, equip people to listen for the answer from God via others around them.

by creating an atmosphere that allows vocation to be seen as normal

If you have never met anyone who has sailed round the world, the thought of doing so is almost too much to comprehend, but – if you've spent time with people who sailed round the world – it suddenly becomes less extraordinary. I think that the same is true around Café Church. If you never meet anyone like you who has thought about being ordained then it seems like a strange thing to consider, but when it's just one of a whole range of things that is mentioned when we're talking about vocation then it's not so weird.

We talk about vocation in a very ordinary, matter of fact way. We talk about it in a wide range of contexts and with a sense that it might have a wide range of out-workings for people. As we've done that over the past few years we have been privileged to see people respond to God and move on in their lives following him.

Emmanuel Café Church – update Jan13

Emmanuel Café Church, launched in 2005, meets on Sunday evenings at Emmanuel Centre, Leeds University. Matt Ward is Lead Chaplain to the University and also oversees Café Church.

I'm on an open-ended contract here and I still feel that I'm in right place doing the right thing, but the Café Church all feels a bit fragile. In September 2012, the leavers were a group of people who had been involved from their first term so have been around for three years. It was a strong, cohesive group and it seemed that all of our long-standing members had gone.

However there are also a lot of people who have been here for a year or two years and they are also really important. We don't seem to have had a lot of new people coming in recently but, based on previous patterns, I'd say that maybe it takes people a term or two to find their way to us.

Emmanel Cafe Church - armThere's quite a mix of people who have previously been part of a church and others who have never had any links with church at all. Most of those without any church background come through conversations I have around the university, not necessarily when I'm working on Café Church.

It can be very surprising to see how things develop. For instance, we have a student worker based at the chaplaincy office and she joined a knitting group. They weren't connected with us in any way but now they've asked her to do a Bible study for them in the café where they knit. To be honest I have mixed feelings because part of me wonders how this is sustainable because she's only with us for a year but, on the other hand, I'm thinking, 'How can I support this group and help it develop even though it's not part of Café Church?' The bottom line is that the whole thing is a risky enterprise which requires you to trust God all the time!

If I just look at numbers, Café Church is pretty small – around a dozen or so regulars – but then I look back over the last five years and think about how many of the people who have been involved with Café Church are either training for ministry or involved in ministry in different ways already. There is something that is transformational, way beyond the numbers attending.

Then I look at other churches in the area which have large-scale, band-led worship with 30 minute expository sermons and they regularly attract several hundred students. It would be the easiest thing in the world to say that we could do here what works 'over there' but that's not necessarily the right thing to do.

Emmanel cafe church - prayer requestsOther people may not see it that way because, as everywhere, resources and money is tight and I am often asked about numbers and finance and so on. That's the really difficult thing for me; namely how we actually make sense of 'measuring' things. We are in a culture that measures everything so it's no surprise that we are questioned about things like, 'How much giving do you generate?'

Looking at my wider work at the University, a senior manager here was discussing the introduction of Key Performance Indicators for chaplaincy. Thankfully she did also say that it was important to measure the right things for those Indicators, reflecting the quality of the engagement that we are able to have. To me, this is something around the work of the ministry itself. Look at the investment that Jesus makes with certain individuals, at times it seems out of all proportion to what you would expect and yet the transformation in their lives is total. It can be very difficult to work out that balance but it's important to try.

Café Church aims to equip young adults for their journey in faith and help them to continually draw on those resources. We give them the tools, not the answers. I work with a group of people who are very literate, very technically aware on the whole and very questioning so I have to engage with them in that way. It's knowing your community, trying to be with them and alongside them, and speak in their 'language'.

Emmanuel cafe church - quizAs part of encouraging them in discipleship, everyone shares in the leading of Café Church. By the end of a year everyone will have taken a lead at some point, it's a very deliberate thing. They are all capable of doing it and sometimes people really surprise you by what they bring. It's important that we are aware of each other's needs and those of the community around us but it is also good to remember that we are part of the wider Anglican Church. There is a reason why we have a lectionary, and some of that is really valuable for us.

As the leader of a community, the sort of approach we have at Café Church could feel quite threatening but I find it really refreshing – even though at times you have to very much think on your feet. It can be frustrating if you have done a lot of preparatory work but the conversations go off on a totally different tangent than you expected. It's then important to discern whether they've gone in a helpful direction or not!

Emmanuel Café Church – ordination Nov11

A Café Church in Leeds will host what is believed to be the country's first ordination service within a fresh expression of church on Sunday (13th November) when Michelle Briggs is ordained priest in the University's Emmanuel Centre.

Michelle has worked as a Senior Research Fellow in the University's School of Healthcare since 2003 following completion of her PhD. She began ordination training in 2005, became a deacon in 2008 at Ripon Cathedral and was licensed in April 2010 to be an assistant chaplain at the University. This included involvement in the leadership team of Emmanuel Café Church which meets on Sundays from 5pm to 6.30pm during term time.

She says,

I wanted to go where I could be with people involved in workplace ministry. The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, Rt Revd John Packer, suggested how to work out my curacy within a chaplaincy framework and Café Church has been a very enriching experience. It's a great way to do church.

The ordination service will be familiar in some ways but very different in others. Instead of an order of service there will be a 'menu' to indicate how and when people can take part in the ordination. It will be streamed as a live webcast with an opportunity for the virtual 'congregation' to join with those at the venue via live chat on Facebook.

The University's Anglican chaplain Matt Ward says,

It's exciting to have such a significant event as part of our fresh expression of church; deacons in the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds are ordained in the cathedral but the ordination of priests takes place in the parishes where curates are serving – so in this case, it's Café Church!

We have thought long and hard about how to conduct what is traditionally a formal service in a way that remains true to our Café Church style. It's important that it's done correctly but I also wanted us to be connected to our community's unique culture so we basically broke down the service and put it back together again. It has to be accessible to quite a disparate group of people because there'll be non-Christian friends and colleagues who will want to come along.

Many Leeds graduates, now living away from the city in the UK and abroad, also want to be part of the special occasion. Matt says,

Some people have been with us for three years as members of Café Church. After graduating, they go back home or move on but remain part of the Café Church extended community. They told us they'd like to participate in the service in some way so we decided to do a live stream of the service and facilitate live chat via our Facebook group.

Parts of the service will be quite formal and front led but the Ministry of the Word is going to be done in Café Church style with some resources on tables to explore things there. People will also be able to 'sit' around an online table and when we get to the bit where those of us in Leeds are getting into discussions, one of our leaders will facilitate the online chat. Also, instead of having the litany prayers, people will contribute what they have been working on. This will include someone bringing forward their laptop and offering what the online community have come up with.

Discussion as to the 'dress code' – and many other issues – is continuing. Michelle says,

As is normal for Café Church, we will be having coffee and cake to kick things off from 5pm to 5.30pm so to have a fully robed procession at that stage would be incongruous! I'm having a clerical dress made for me so that I can be quite informal but still wear the collar.

I'm delighted that the service is being held within the Café Church. I know the term café church can certainly be stretched to cover all sorts of expressions of church but, to be honest, I'm not somebody in search of a label. The most important thing for me is never to be a stumbling block for people to come to Christ. Jesus tore the cloth of the Temple in two and we spend a lot of time in church sewing that back up again! If we embraced every way that Christians show Christ's light perhaps we wouldn't see the need to try and do that.

Emmanuel Café Church

Emmanuel - Matt WardA fresh expression of church that is 'fuelled by coffee'… Matt Ward, a chaplain at the University of Leeds, takes us behind the scenes at Emmanuel Café Church.

In the days before Café Church, students would meet for a fairly traditional Sunday afternoon service. By the time I arrived at the university, I felt it wasn't engaging them and it certainly wasn't engaging anyone else.

I inherited a number of struggling worship events and was told, 'You sort it out!' but I knew the first thing to do was not to jump to do anything at all. Instead we wanted to listen to God. For the first term-and-a-half we just met together and prayed together, asking what we thought Church was, and where God's work could be found on the campus.

It didn't take us long to realise that sharing faith tended to happen around coffee and cake! Emmanuel Café Church grew from that, and we're now in our fourth year.

It's easy to fall into the numbers' game. How many people are attending, how regular is their attendance, and can we chart growth in what we have been doing? The fact is that we have got quite a large number of people who would say they are members of Café Church. They may not come week in, week out, they may only have been once but they feel a connection, and see themselves as a part of what we do.

We work in a number of ways to keep those connections. These include:

  • having a regular place to meet;
  • a Facebook page;
  • sending a weekly electronic list saying what we did last week and what is coming up next week;
  • texting people to say, 'How are you? What's happening for you?'.

The networking continues with students who have left the university. It's one of our key issues at the moment. How do they move on from our fresh expression of church into new places? They may grow in faith and confidence as students here, so how do we help and encourage them in that transition stage?

Some ex-students keep connected for a considerable period of time, particularly if they have ended up working in quite isolated or dangerous areas of the world. They want to share what is happening with what they see as 'their' community.

Emmanuel Café Church - chatCafé Church operates in 10-week bursts during term-time. Obviously, as we operate in a university environment, we always miss the major festivals. That's a bit of a challenge for a church community… but there are still ways to celebrate 'together', even when we're not in the same place at the same time.

In previous years, I have sent a sermon by text on Christmas morning. You have just 168 characters in a text. What can you say about the Incarnation within those sort of limits?! I don't know about doing that via Twitter with 140 characters. That really would be a challenge.

We've had some very successful one-off events, but we usually meet from 5 on a Sunday evening, and it's very deliberate timing. It's the end of a weekend so if students have been working they can come out afterwards, and if they have had friends to stay or been away themselves, they will generally be back by then. It's extremely informal and very much a 'drift in and out' idea. People may get involved with the discussion starters we leave about the place, take a look at the stations that could be around the room, or perhaps simply catch up with others and have a chat about how the week has gone.

Towards the end of our time together they usually have another drink because the whole thing is fuelled by coffee. They leave at about 6.30 to 7pm.

The idea that people who go to church at a certain time on a certain day does not connect with these students at all. Instead it's a continuous process. I see people on campus through the week, maybe in a queue for yet more caffeine, with others meeting to have meals or drinks together. In Acts 2, the sharing of lives and the sharing of things in common with each other is seen as important and I think that pastoral thing, that growing thing, that making of disciples, is key to Café Church, as it should be for every type of church.

Emmanuel - logoEvery year has seen quite a sense of growth in the life of the church, and in the lives of those who have come and found faith or confidence in their faith. My hope for the future is that Café Church continues to be shaped in a way that serves the needs of the students who come in and reaches out to students who don't. If it looks the same in 12 months as it does now, it won't be doing that.