At all the other fresh expressions I had approached people with interest and questions…
This time my plan had been to just enter as if this was my first time there and see what happened…
I arrived in the Northern Quarter of Manchester just before lunch. As I roamed the streets trying to find my way to Nexus café I took in my surroundings. The streets were crowded with 18 – 35 year olds, sporting vintage clothing, piercings, tattoos and dread locks – their bodies the expressions of their art. I stuck out like a sore thumb…
I guess I can’t be all that incognito…
Passing the vinyl exchange, porn shops, and environmentally friendly shops – I found the entrance to Nexus on Dale street – an art display entitled “she laughs” adorned the front window and walls as I descended the stairway. A pleasant server greeted me and took my coffee order, and I settled into the black leather coach at the rear of the cafe as my vantage point for observation.
Nexus had started out as a Methodist church outreach to the club crowd on Saturday evenings. Open until 5am, the café was a safe place for clubbers to grab a cup of coffee and wait for a cab. One particular evening a local artist had stumbled into the café and was inspired. This would be the perfect place to display the art of the community – the money was raised – and Nexus – ‘art café’ was born.
I scanned my surroundings trying to find any evidence of the Christian roots that had begun this place – or of the emergent Christian community Sanctus 1 that met here on Wednesday evenings – but found none –
Only two things stood out to me – first – that this café was completely contextualized for the Northern Quarter surroundings – and second – the server was the most friendly I had met since being in the U.K.
I now had 1 more question to add to my list for Ben Edson – pioneer leader for Sanctus 1 and now an ordained Anglican priest – was the absence of any identifiable Christian link a conscious one?
Ben and I are now sitting down for coffee – a PK – Ben had been a part of the Manchester Music scene and coming back to minister to 18 – >35 – left of center – art types was for him a ‘coming home’. Ben was brought back to faith by the Lee Abbey community – was evangelized not by individuals – but by community and has sought to create the same feel in Sanctus. His desire was to facilitate a community where Christian’s could be discipled in a setting accessible to those exploring faith. “We are Christians” he says “but we don’t need to have it all sown up”. A handful of people in their community don’t believe in God, and yet have aspirations to believe in God. Sanctus, for them, has become a safe place to begin that journey.
Manchester’s city center has had a residential boom of late from 1000 in 1991 to 20 000 in 2006 mainly in high rise single residence flats – “lonliness is a real issue” – say’s Ben – so we have used our virtual presence and creativity to build community where before there was none.
One of my main questions coming out of my incognito observation was to do with the lack of any identifiable Christian presence at Nexus. Was this conscious? I ask. “No” – he says, there are supposed to be posters in the bathrooms and cards on the tables. Ben further explains that he is presently moving to a different ministry – and his passing off of leadership – has understandably left some things lost in the shuffle.
So what is the connection from Sanctus 1 to Nexus? Twice a month Sanctus gives direction to the creative displays at Nexus to connect others to the Christian community. Ben has seen his role as chaplain to Nexus – attending the various art events hosted in the café – and now even visiting one of the unchurched staff in hospital.
Just as Ben is in transition – so is Santus. What began as an outreach to the neighbourhood has become a commuter church for those outside the community – and as original members grow – they now have to ask questions of how to care for children in their midst. These questions will be left to Al – to whom the mantle of leadership will be presently passed.
As it’s Wednesday – at 7:30pm the café will be transformed into an emergent fresh expression of church. I duck out to grab some dinner – descend the same stairs – and am met with crisp Sanctus posters in the “loo” and glossy cards on the table – I am greeted warmly by the barista – and offered a free cup of coffee (given that it is my first time). After some small talk with we are called to find our seats…
The leadership of the evenings is shared amongst the members – and tonight – we are led in a ‘fresh expression of speed dating’ – Every three minutes we found another ‘date’ – and projected on the screen were questions or activities to participate in.
Cliff Richard or James Blunt?
Tell the person opposite you something important to you. Either pray or write words down on a sheet of paper.
Which of these is most important to you? Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father…
Woman priests and gay Bishops?
Tell the other person one thing you have done that wasn’t right this week.
The word commune appears on the screen – and we are instructed to grab a piece of bread and a cup of juice – no further instructions are given – and my “date” doesn’t know what to do – so we just talk while we each eat our part of the bread.
I have now “dated” everyone in the room…the evening concludes as every evening at Sanctus does – beer at the local pub – I have a four hour drive to London to complete – and am fearful I will fall asleep if I have a beer – Ben – not feeling well joins me as I will pass right by his house on the way to the Motorway.
I drop Ben off at home – and am left with my thoughts – was what I experienced church? Well…we prayed…we had communion?…we confessed…we reflected on God’s word…we grew as a community.
What are the marks of church?
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst”
As I reflected on my “dates” – two themes had begun to arise – those who were present were either searching out a faith for themselves, or had come from communities that had faith all sown up – and had now found a safe place to explore what faith looked like for them.
Evangelism through community – Ben had called it – but I was wondering how I was going to explain my evening of speed dating to my wife…