Sermon 18th August 2019

The sermon preached by the Rector at St.Mary’s Church at the 9.45am Holy Communion service on Sunday 18th August 2019

When the Parochial Church Council met on 25th July to review our pattern of Sunday services, the Church Council was emphatic that we must have two services each month at 9.45am that are not Holy Communion. And the Council wanted one of these to be aimed directly at young children and their parents. And it was also decided that the other two Sundays in the month we will have the traditional Communion service.

So half the time at 9.45am we will have a service which is traditional, and the other half of the time we will be contemporary and family-friendly, and once a month it will be all for young families. That’s quite a mix, but enough variety for any parish church!

I slept on this, and I was awake half the night, thinking ‘How on earth can we make this work – once a month a 9.45am service that is especially for young families?’ You can’t just advertise that once a month your service will be aimed directly at young children and their parents, and wait for them to come in. Church-going is not like that, these days.

The next morning, I emailed the Church Council saying: ‘If we really want to attract young children and their parents, and have credibility, we need Café Church’.

This is what I said in my email to the Church Council members:
‘Café Church would be a big change from present, but we are in a serious situation. Despite having one of the largest Electoral Rolls in the Deanery, we can’t find successor Churchwardens and we have no training in place at present to nurture future leadership. Our annual deficit – if it continues – will drain our reserves to zero in 8 years’ time. If we were a school, Ofsted would have put us in special measures before now. If I am going to publicise actively for the service aimed directly at young children and their parents, I want to be confident in our ‘product’. In order to attract and keep and build a congregation of young children and their parents, something different is needed. Young mums and dads of today are looking for a place to meet with other families in the same circumstances, and traditional ideas of a church service are not attractive. We must show to families here – and families moving in to Alderley Park – and, indeed, families across the wider Alderley area including those with children at Nether Alderley Primary School, that we have the characteristics that they expect of the Alderley area: imagination, creativity, flair and confidence, and that we can serve their needs effectively’.

I envisage Café Church starting in the Parish Hall in March, but this depends on us forming a team to run Café Church, and getting everything into place including publicity, music, catering and content of worship.

What is Café Church?

I am working from my experience of setting up and running Café Church at the community hall that we built at my previous parish church in Sussex. I am also talking with clergy colleagues and others now to learn from their experiences.

1. Food and hospitality is one of the best ways of doing evangelism, and bacon rolls seem to work best of all! 
In a relaxed setting of background music playing, signs of activities to follow, welcoming people, children’s toys, breakfast is served.

2.. While people are sitting at tables to eat, there can be some spoken welcome and lead-in to the morning’s activities. 
After a while, breakfast is over and a theme or series is presented for those present to get to grips with. Children might like to do the children’s activity, or they might like to play. Some grown-ups might prefer to opt out and chat, or sit at a quiet table.

3. After a while, activities are wrapped up and worship begins. People’s offerings are based on the activity that has been taking place. We must get the music right: a keyboard and someone to play it, and good, contemporary worship songs is what we need.

4. Afterwards, there’s more chat, tea and coffee, children’s play. 
Baptisms can take place in Café Church, when we are confident.

5. After a while, people who may be new to worship, or new to St.Mary’s Church, can be asked if they are Baptised or Confirmed, and whether this is something that they would like. 
In due course, those who worship regularly can be asked to commit by regular giving.

It sounds attractive, and it is attractive, but we need a committed team of about 6 people to plan for it and run it. I will be putting this sermon on Facebook and on the church website, so, hopefully, we will get volunteers that way.
There will be plenty of focussed publicity so that it’s well-known that we will be holding Café Church – and the publicity will be maintained.

So – please talk with members of the Church Council – and talk with me. And please pray about the challenging situation that we are in as a parish church.

Soon, I will be writing to everyone on the St.Mary’s Church Electoral Roll about the deficit last year, and the conversations that Archdeacon Ian is having with us and other Church Councils about the future – and about Café Church.

And this week I will be sending out invitations to a number of people who have the qualifications to serve as Churchwarden, as I set up our Trainee Churchwardens’ group.

To be a Churchwarden you must fulfil certain qualifications, and I would say: ‘you must be on email, because most 99% of communication within St.Mary’s Church and with the Diocesan Office is by email’.

Please pray about all this. We are at a turning point as a parish church.

Teach us, good Lord to serve thee as thou deservest,
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward;
except that of knowing that we do thy will. Amen.