A fresh expression of church meets in Droxford village hall, Hampshire on the third Sunday of the month. Launched in September 2011, it now attracts up to 100 people to its informal sessions. Rev Stuart Holt explains how it has developed.
As Rector here I was very fortunate that my parish released me from services in Droxford, Exton, Meonstoke and Corhampton twice a month so that I could be involved with mission events on the ground. I felt that it was time to stop talking about mission and actually do some!
Retired priests Canon Anthony Hulbert, Canon Marion Mort and the Ven Barrie Hammett are helping to lead services and offer pastoral support to regular worshippers in our four churches while I'm fronting Café Lite and a puppet ministry in schools.
We decided to set these things up for a year and see how we got on. It all started in September; it's really encouraging to see that new people are coming in and they're bringing their friends with them. We've never seen these people before. Things are developing too because some of them are now wanting to be baptised and have their babies baptised.
My other project is a Sunday morning puppet show at Meonstoke Infant School on the last Sunday of the month, called Puppets and Praise. This means that I now have two fresh expressions of church in these ancient, rural benefices.
Café Lite runs on the third Sunday of the month in Droxford Village Hall and we have most of the Sunday newspapers, bacon rolls, worship and chat. No money came from church funds to support the café church or the puppet shows. Instead we have made them self-supporting with private individuals funding different components so – for instance – someone has sponsored the bread for a year, somebody else has paid for the bacon and another person buys all the papers.
I thought it important to offer excellence which is why we've also got a professional Gaggia coffee machine for all those 'flat whites' we have to prepare! The numbers at Café Lite have reached 96 which is quite something for a tiny little parish of 1600 people in the middle of Hampshire.
When deciding what resources to use, I finally went for what was around when I came to faith in 1967, Norman Warren's Journey into Life – mainly because it's very clear and simple. I ended up buying 100 copies from the States. Again, for worship, I had previously used Youth Praise and I use it again now because it really deals with key issues of faith; I found that it was as powerful now as it had been all those years ago.
We started from the beginning with the music because it's for the dechurched as well as the unchurched. I know it can seem strange to many people involved in fresh expressions that we would focus on worship and singing at such an early stage in the life of this community but the people really wanted the music to express some strong messages about God and Christianity. It doesn't seem to be offputting because we're drawing in a huge cross section of people, including those from a local social housing estate, an equine horse healer and an international tea taster from Twinings teas.
We also have those recovering from drug and alcohol addictions at a nearby rehab centre. They are accompanied by a staff member and it's great to see them there. We are now also actively involved in Christians Against Poverty and have CAP money coaches there.
Almost as soon as we started in the hall, I was asked, 'What is your strategy for these people?' My answer was, and is, 'Preach the gospel and be open to the Holy Spirit. That's it.'
Our immediate challenge is that the hall is licensed for 120 people and we have already got up to 96 coming along; if everybody in the Café Lite community turned up we would be over the 120. It's a wonderful challenge to have because we had no idea how it was going to go or if anybody would turn up at all. We're also having fantastic conversations. People have asked if I could do a wedding blessing for them because they got married in a register office but would love a blessing; others have asked about preparing for baptism for themselves or their children.
Again, when it became clear that people had taken up the idea of Café Lite, I was asked what my strategy was going to be for discipleship. I said the answer was definitely not to make them go on some sort of organized course; people wouldn't want that – especially as they had never been to church anywhere before and had actually turned up because we offered them a bacon sandwich! We are now developing a nurture course to help them tackle some key issues in a way that's relevant to them.
Puppets in Praise runs from 9.30am to 10.30am in the hall at Meonstoke School. It is something that's definitely encouraging people to take that step into Café Lite. Families are invited to watch and participate in the event with parents then being able to do follow-up work in the classrooms with the children. We have had 75 coming along to that. When I did a pilot for the show last year, I asked four of the young people to download new worship songs to their iPods and learn them over the summer so they could help with the singing.
We also have lots of children at Café Lite, usually around 29. It was suggested that we should 'do' something for the children as a separate entity but I said we needed to ban the words 'ought', 'must' or 'should' in our Christian lives and that I didn't want Café Lite to be turned into a Sunday school in the village hall. It's a church in its own right.
Interestingly some people got very indignant about seeing kids with i-Phones at Café Lite. It doesn't bother me because that's what kids do, they text each other. What was wonderful was the fact that they were actually texting, 'I'm at Café Lite, it's brilliant.' Another girl filmed it on her phone and sent it to a friend to say how good it was.
Some people also come along to regular gig nights at The White Horse pub in Droxford when I and the Rev Andy Bridgen play music from the 60s and 70s as The Rockin' Revs. We always invite people to Café Lite from there!
The churches here have been serving this stretch of the Meon Valley for hundreds of years and we are glad that Café Lite and Puppets in Praise are also helping to meet the spiritual needs of those around us. I've no idea what will happen or who will come week by week but I want us to take some risks in spreading the gospel.