Cafe Church – A longitudinal Study

Chester 007From my perch at The Falcon – the longest continuous pub in the U.K. – it’s easy to see that Chester is a tourist town.  The children yelling – left, right – left right – as they follow a tour guide dressed as a Roman Legionnaire – the tourists bustling between shops – snapping pictures of everything in sight in this Roman – Medieval – Tudor town.

I had been here a year ago – as a tourist myself – and had literally fallen into a fresh expression of church at Wesley Methodist Church conveniently located between the Roman Ruins and the center of town.  A Café aimed to connect to local residents – stay at home mom’s – and tourists – manned by a retired Methodist minister from Canada (of all places) named George.

Today I am in Chester as a different kind of tourist – to see a year later how this fresh expression of church is faring – a longitudinal study.

As I round the corner Wesley Methodist Church is covered in Scaffolding – plastered with artists renditions of the final product.  The church is closed.  That was a quick longitudinal study…

A coffee cup and arrow catches my eye – pointing me two buildings up to the Welsh church.  Another coffee cup above the church welcomes me through the door.  There sitting at the welcome table is my old friend George – with only a few quick exchanges he remembers my name – along with my questions last time I came in – asking how my wife and son are doing…he has a gift.

This time I have more questions – so after his quick tour of the Welsh church – he takes me upstairs to see the relocated Café – and we sit down for a cup of coffee.

As we engage in conversation a continuous stream of people come through the doors – Mom’s with Kids, Grandma’s and kids, office workers and seniors.  George seems to know every one of them – constantly leaving our conversation to acknowledge them by name with a few brief exchanges.

Turning back to me he says…

That’s ‘Alice’ she’s an Athiest – still working on her…

That’s ‘Nick’ he’s an alcoholic – this place has kept him sober – each day he checks in– and writes his prayers in the prayer request book at the door.

That’s….and the conversation continues.

Sporting a dog-collar – George describes his role as the ‘chaplain for the street’ – even praying in the pub for the manager’s family life.

What do you do here? – I ask.  “I pray with people and lead them to Christ” – as quickly as if I had asked him what he had for breakfast.

In his retirement the Café has become his ministry – he along with a team from Wesley Methodist church run the café.  When I asked a member of the team why they continued during the construction – which only would have been a mere 12 weeks – she gave me an odd look saying – ‘we couldn’t give up on the relationships’ – and then with a smile – ‘and it keeps us out of trouble’.

Why do people come here?

The peace – responds George – every other café in the city you would feel quickly rushed out of – so the next person can line the cash register with their hard earned money.  Here Mom’s can bring in their own food – feed their babies – socialize – and spend time in community – the play area had been empty when I arrived – now two babies where playing together while Mom’s looked on…

As I bend down to grab my Camera to get a picture of George with the café in the back ground for the blog – my eye catches the Alpha sign – each table’s center piece is a card inviting them to the next ecumenical Alpha course

…come for a leisurely cup of coffee leave with ‘something more to life’…

As I make my way back downstairs – I spend some time speaking with the ladies attending the fair trade store – as the conversation moves to why I have so many questions – I speak a bit about my pilgrimage to see fresh expressions…

“Oh”…their eyes light up…”you should check out St. Peter’s at the center of town – they have been doing this for over twenty years…”

That’s worth a visit I thought – a Roman Catholic Fresh Expression…

A quick walk gets me to St. Peters – the location of the Towne Crier – through the door – café tables have replaced 80% of the pews – almost all full of people enjoying a leisurely cup of fair-trade brew…

On the walls you find the history and vision of this café – but I decide I need to hear it in its flesh and blood reality – I approach the first server I see – May I ask you a question – Why are you doing this café – without missing a beat – “to be a Christian presence in the city center…

[I think I have a fresh expression theme so far – they know what they are about – and why they are doing it]

…this church only has 2-3 services a week – we wanted to keep the Christian presence central.”

Why would someone come here – when there are so many other places to get a cup of coffee? – “the Christian presence in the people who work here” he responds – out of the corner of my eye I see the servers not only picking up the dirty coffee cups but engaging people in real conversation – and even at times – says my new friend – pastoral counselling – this takes the Starbucks mandate to remember everyone’s name and coffee order to a whole new level!!!

Apparently this Christian presence has had it’s impact – one of the tour companies in town encourages people to attend the café at the end of their tour – saying it is a good, reasonable cup of coffee in a great environment – “having 52 people come in all at once is a bit much” he says as he scans the team of long-time church goers…

As I walk away from St. Peter’s I pass a dozen café’s with all the well known logos– none are as busy as St. Peter’s or Wesley Methodist – the attractiveness of the presence of Christ???

Oh – and by the way – says George – the Chester Towne Crier is a born-again Christian!!!


  1. Nick
    September 23, 2009

    Excellent post, Tim. Hope you can keep it up for the duration!

  2. Jenny Andison
    September 23, 2009

    Thanks Tim ! Praying for you and looking forward to hearing all about it in person soon.


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