Last year, Cafechurch was welcomed as one of the Uniting Church’s newest faith communities. Alister Pate, Caféchurch’s leader, is a second year candidate for Ministry of the Word and Sacrament at Pilgrim Theology College. He explained to Crosslight how the spirit of friendship helps foster faith.
People no longer go to church as they once did. Call it post-modernity, post-Christendom, pluralism; things aren’t like they used to be. But church doesn’t seem to be changing. We still do the same things and hope they will suddenly start to work again, like they used to in the good old days when all you had to do was to build a sanctuary, put up a sign and people would come.
Christianity is no longer the default option for people looking for meaning in their lives. There are so many options for people. Shall I try yoga, or Sufi dancing, or Buddhism?
On the other hand, we live in an increasingly lonely and atomised society. It is easier to lounge on the sofa with Netflix and a glass of red wine than make actual human connection.
This is the context within which Cafechurch lives.
Cafechurch came out of a conversation within a big Pentecostal church in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne back in 1999. The youth pastor, Steve, and a few of the less involved younger people asked the eldership if they could create something to contextualise the Gospel for their generation.
The elders said: “Fantastic – we love you, we love your work. You can have the 5:30 service to do whatever you like, with only a couple of caveats. You have to leave the seating alone – it’s a hassle to reorganise it. And the worship band is a key part of our brand, so you’ll have to keep them, obviously. And the senior pastor spends a lot of time crafting his message, so of course you’ll need to keep that.”
Eventually the elders agreed there could be candles on the stage.
And Steve said: “I really appreciate the generosity of your offer. But I can’t help thinking that there could be even further levels of Gospel enculturation that might be possible.”
And so Cafechurch started meeting in Hawthorn.
Ever since then, we’ve been fruitfully at work providing a place where people can make authentic spiritual connection over a meal and guided discussion. Currently we meet in the Union Club Hotel in Fitzroy on a Tuesday night. Once a month we do a more churchy-communion service at the chapel in the Centre for Theology and Ministry. Lots of silence, Taizé chants, followed by dinner.
One of our (slightly tongue-in-cheek) slogans is: “Cafechurch: we talk about stuff.” So what do we talk about exactly? Some nights we read the Bible together. Some nights we talk more generally – about suffering, about what it means to believe, to have faith, to be church. The overriding question is this: what does it mean to be a Christian in 21st century Melbourne?
Sometimes we will take something substantial and run with it for a while. Currently we are working on a short course called Deconstruct/Reconstruct: Tools to Help Build a Generously Orthodox Faith. The aim is to drink from the deep wells of Christian thought and spirituality.
But it’s not just philosophy seminars and Bible study. The aesthetic and artistic is central to what we do, from creating collaborative spiritual photography exhibitions (www.spiritusetlocus.org), to writing a book, or releasing a CD.
Finally, we embrace prayer and spirituality – the “long loving look at the real”. We have strong links with the Ignatian spiritual tradition which we use in our worship and the retreat days we run twice a year. It helps us to step away from our usual preoccupations and spend focused, gentle time with God, and with one another.
There are about 20 people involved, from our early 20s up to people in their 50s – though if you’re older (or younger) then don’t let that stop you. And because we meet on Tuesdays, it means you can keep up your relationship with your home church – or come along when you can’t make it on a Sunday.
For more information contact Alister at: email@example.com, phone 0400 013 799, or go to: www.cafechurch.org or facebook.com/CafechurchMelbourne
Cafechurch is partially funded by BOMAR in collaboration with Carlton Church of All Nations.