Relay Blog: February 2017
Never underestimate the power of a high-quality, reasonably-priced flat white.
I was a student in Durham last year, and I think this was one of the most significant aspects of STORY (Durham Inter-Collegiate Christian Union’s events week in 2016). Since Durham has a very established ‘coffee culture’, we tried to recreate this in the STORY marquee, with a team of volunteer baristas serving high quality artisan coffee before and after events. It worked! People stayed well into the afternoon to chat about the talk and share their story over a (very good) flat white. There were so many people who wanted to continue conversations and ask questions, and the STORY café tacitly gave them permission and reason to stay.
I remember looking around the marquee at 4pm, seeing groups of students reading John’s Gospel together and thinking how unique it was to have a warm, inviting space for people to use to continue conversations without being politely ushered away by a well-meaning pack down team. The impact of the café was far greater than we could have hoped: for example, one CU member started reading John’s Gospel with two friends as a direct result of their conversations in the café. His friends didn’t even go to the events, but they heard about what was going on in the marquee and came to the café to chat about his story of being a Christian.
One of the privileges of being a Relay Worker is getting to be a CU Guest (CUG) at a couple of CU mission weeks. It’s been wonderful to see the ripple effect of the STORY café in mission weeks around the country this year. A few weeks ago, I was a CUG at OICCU’s main event, Home. They invited Jericho Coffee Traders, a local micro-roastery, to run a pop-up café in the corner of Oxford Town Hall which they had rented out for the week. OICCU encouraged CU members to adopt the space and use it as they would use any other café normally – for work, meeting people, and chilling out in. This created a real buzz throughout the week: guests felt comfortable to stay hours after the lunchbar had ended because so many other people were doing the same.
At the end of February, I went back to Durham for STORY – this time as a CUG – and was delighted to see that the café was back, and was better: the decorations edgier, the baristas faster and the brewing methods greater (what even is a Chemex?!). More importantly, though, it was wonderful to be able to buy coffee for the people who I was sat next to at the events, to know that the coffee would be good quality, to give them time to process what they had heard, and to value them as people by asking ‘what’s your story?’ and taking the time to listen.
In university it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of sport, essays and socialising. Having a café in a CU mission week goes against the grain of this culture of busyness, giving people the space and excuse to take time out of their schedules and explore big questions of life and Christianity. It also values people: rather than only having space and time for talks, it invites guests to take the floor and demonstrates that their stories and experiences matter.
Unsurprisingly, the STORY café was the setting for one of my February highlights (and probably Relay highlights too). I was sat in the café for a break with a much needed chai latte and noticed two guys on the table next to me having a long conversation. After a while, they started praying together and then embraced. One left, and the other turned to me and exclaimed, ‘My friend just became a Christian!’ It’s such a joy to see how opening up a welcoming space and valuing people with time and good coffee can eventually lead to people trusting in Jesus for themselves. Joy!