Our cafe, Martha’s Kitchen, has been open for a few weeks and amongst the noise of milk frothing and espresso extraction, we often find ourselves explaining about the two sisters who were friends of Jesus.
The name Martha’s Kitchen is also a constant reminder that Riverside should always focus on knowing Jesus more deeply. But this deepening knowledge is accompanied by and expressed in serving our community, often literally, through serving coffee.
Similar to some other local churches we have tried to develop a cafe that doesn’t feel like a ‘church cafe’. Part of our vision was to avoid embodying the Acorn Antiques approach to hot beverages. Hopefully customers are pleasantly surprised by the ambiance and the quality food and drinks.
Martha’s Kitchen has been a long time in the making. It’s over five years since we decided on the new strategy of developing the church building as a space with hospitality and community at the heart. At the start we used the language of a ‘community centre’ but ‘monastery’ feels more appropriate; we seek to be a place of prayer, work, hospitality, learning and worship. The next step is a regular community meal where the church and the wider community can break bread.
One question to which we have often returned is; isn’t the church supposed to get out of the building? And of course the answer is yes. But the corollary is ‘out to where?’
My previous church was in an area of Edinburgh with a sport centre and various other amenities. We had no church building so we met for coffee every week in the sport’s centre cafe. We met on Sundays in a local day care facility and we conducted outreach mainly through the repurposed manse and the community centre. There were struggles associated with using borrowed spaces but the benefits came through the relationships developed outside of the congregation. We were blown away when staff in the sports centre approached us with prayer requests.
However, the main point is that we met in public spaces. Generally, ‘to get out of the building’ means going to the spaces where the wider community assembles. And if there are few public spaces, the best approach for churches may be to create such space. This may not involve geographical movement. But it can be a huge psychological step. Many churches look at their building as a specialist religious space and haven from the world outside. To open the doors to the community and begin to share the space can be a serious culture change.
In sharing the space, friendships are formed, outreach is informed and active faith is experienced to the benefit of both the follower of Christ and those whom they serve. In fact, in keeping with Jesus’ encounter at the well, Martha’s kitchen also provides the opportunity for those don’t profess to be Jesus’ followers to serve with the Christian community.
Does this sharing of the church building and formation of public space mean losing gospel distinctiveness. No, although it does initiate some unexpected questions and challenges about what appropriate use of the church facilities entails.
For Riverside, although Martha’s kitchen is now at the physical and spiritual centre of church life, Mary activities remain the priority. But Mary’s sister continues to gently open the door to vital questions about the greatest purpose of our lives.