The Taste and See café church in Kidsgrove appeared in expressions: the dvd – 1: stories of church for a changing culture. How have things moved on since then? Graham Harrison tells how things haven't quite gone 'according to plan'.
We have never managed to grow a congregation; God just doesn't seem to be using us like that. There seems to be a regular community but they are not a worshipping community. It hurts us in a way but Taste and See wasn't actually reaching the people we wanted to reach, so we started to approach things differently.
Times have changed and we've had to change with them in that lots of people are coming to us for help and advice so we have to respond to what the community is asking of us. Of course it does prompt the question, 'Are we still a fresh expression?' Well, we are doing quite a lot of things that would signify 'yes, we are' though a regular act of worship isn't part of the picture at the moment – but if that's what God wants, that's fine by me.
It's true that we are not doing what we aimed to do four-and-a-half years ago because we've had to adapt. As things are changing we have to be careful not to spend too much energy on mourning the past. We have been given a wonderful opportunity to show Christ's love in practical terms, and be a means to pray for – and with – people in the community.
At the moment we find that our most successful thing is simply being there for people. Quite a few community groups use our prayer rooms and lounge at the back of the cafe, a local mental health charity for instance uses the rooms during the day and it's great for them and their clients to have a coffee shop to hand.
We do quite a lot of pastoral listening and being there for customers. If one of the local churches has had a funeral, people have a "magical" way of finding us afterwards. If possible we like to have a 'spare' volunteer on duty at all times so that someone is always free to sit and chat if needs be.
Taste and See is a project within the Methodist Church Chester and Stoke-on-Trent District and we are sponsored by the Kidsgrove Circuit. They have been very supportive, particularly when they saw that the community's needs had changed and how we had adapted to those needs.
In spite of that support, things are financially very tight and we could never be 100% self-sufficient. When the coffee shop started we were on declining grants for five years and the hard truth is that they will come to an end in September. We have a management committee to oversee what we do so there are some tough questions as to whether we can replace that funding.
We are officially open from 10am to 2pm, Monday to Saturday though things can be a little more flexible than that as the café is staffed by volunteers and we're always on the lookout for new people to make tea and butties, wash-up, or just be there with a smile and a chat.
Kidsgrove is a funny old town because it has got no high street chains in it and businesses come and go very quickly. Locals will kind of look at you with suspicion for the first three years because the feeling is 'we don’t know whether we want to get involved because we're not sure you'll still be around in a little while.' When they do finally make it through the doors, they're intrigued as to why Taste and See has got such a peaceful atmosphere.
Recently the challenge has increased with the introduction of a Costa Coffee on a local Tesco site just down the road from us. It will open from 8am to 7pm every day. So why would people come out of Tesco and head to the town instead? We hope because they'll recognise that we offer a lot more than a choice between latte and cappuccino.
We have also got our eye on other things we can do. We'll be organising more regular Saturday night events when people will have the chance to have an evening out for not a lot of money.
Something that caused a little bit of confusion is the relationship between us and a project called The Galley. The first group that really came to faith through Taste and See found that they wanted their own expression of worship on a Sunday. A lot of people simply assumed that we had changed our name but The Galley is completely separate.
They first met in an old disused pub called The Galley, and then they moved but kept the name. They were without a permanent home for a couple of years, first of all going to Kidsgrove town hall and later a Methodist Church building in the middle of Kidsgrove.
These are former mining communities, and each area used to have its own youth and community centre. Staffordshire County Council is now trying to get rid of them. The Galley has saved the Kidsgrove Community Centre building and they now meet there on Sunday afternoons.
We get on well, and I'm delighted that the one thing that Kidsgrove is well served in is Christian denominational places of worship, schools, nurseries and fellowships. Pentecostal, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Salvation Army – they're all here. This may be a time of change for Taste and See but it's good to know that the people of God remain very much in evidence here.