A New Way to Be Church by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
I have lived my life going to church. I spent the first 38 years of my life in a conservative fundamentalist cult. Then the next 14 years in a pentecostal mega church. In each place I was in ministry and leadership. I have recently spent the last 2 years ‘getting unchurched’. Finding myself and finding out what it is that I actually believe in. You can read more about my struggle in the article that I wrote called: “My Wrestle With the Modern Church”.
I live in the green, leafy village of Warrandyte nestled alongside the Yarra River in the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne Australia. We adore our village. We love the walks along the river, we love our neighbours, the shop owners, chefs and wait staff in the many shops in this little tourist village. We do life together.
It seemed a natural progression to wander down to check out the ‘new’ cafe that had just opened up called “Now and Not Yet“. The locals were full of stories and rumours about this new place and at one stage we even boycotted it because of some silly story that was going around. But like any small community you eventually bump into people and the real story emerges.
I started off going there to write the blog and have a coffee. They had free internet and good coffee so it was a great place for me to work. It turns out the the cafe is an emerging church plant.
The core value of the cafe is to ‘be a redeeming presence in the community’.
It was several weeks before I realised any of this. As conversations were made and relationships began, I started to understand the ethos behind this place. It wasn’t actually covert but most people who walked into the cafe would not have any idea that the place was a church. They would however find out first that it was a community endeavour. That it was a place where they were accepted, and could make their own. It was a place where you could chat and settle in and feel at home. Gradually I became a regular and got to know the other groupies that were coming for the friendship and space to work.
About 6 months into this Derek, the cafe community leader, asked me if I would be interested in managing the studio space within the cafe that was currently vacant. 18 months down the track the studio “Create Space” is a vibrant artists community of around 30 artists. Warrandyte is full of artists, many of whom work alone from home. Create Space is a community for artists who now make NNY Cafe their home.
Create Space is an artist run collaboration that aims to create community and shared experiences for artists based in the Melbourne Warrandyte area.
Artists work during the day on different projects, fine art, clay, ceramics, glass, writing and wire sculpture. Workshops happen from time to time and art classes often run during the day. It is a collaborative and empowering space.
As a non for profit enterprise, artists use the studio for no charge and they are also able to sell their work without paying any commission. In return most of the artists volunteer in the cafe from time to time.
I now call Now and Not Yet my community home. I am now ‘being’ church in a completely different way than I have ever been before. It is all about ‘being’ the presence of God instead of talking about or looking for the presence of God. Instead of teaching on evangelism, I am living it. There are no worship bands, sermons or structured and programmed meetings.
It is incredible to see the Spirit of God moving in every conversation and each connection so easily, so freely and so suprisingly. There is no agenda or end game, it is all about authentic relationships, it’s about loving one another and it’s about being present in the moment and allowing God to make the connection.
Here are three examples of conversations that have happened recently and are very typical of what happens in the cafe. In fact now I work from home because on the days when I am in the cafe the chatting and relating just never stops.
1: I was writing for the blog when this 50 + lady interrupted me.
“Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind but I’ve been watching you working on your computer and I can’t stop staring at you. I hope you don’t think I’m weird or something but you just have so much joy and love pouring off you. Would you mind if I just chatted with you for a few min before I leave?” I said of course have a seat.
So we sat and chatted. She wanted to know what this place was because as soon as she walked in she felt an overwhelming peace. She didn’t know how to process it. As she talked with me, she shared about her adult daughter who is deep into a cancer journey. She shared her grief and as she was leaving I asked if I could pray for her. She said that she would like that
2: Another day I was working as one of the wait staff and I came to take the order of two women. As we chatted over what lunch to order I noticed her necklace. I said that I hope she didn’t mind but that I thought her necklace was so beautiful and that it looked like the tree of life, could she tell me about it. She teared up and immediately began to share. As it turned out she had just come back from Cambodia where she had invested in a social justice enterprise which sold jewellery and the proceeds went back into rescuing girls out of sex slavery.
She felt that she had hit a wall and was just treading water with the project and wasn’t sure what the next step was. She was doubting that she had done the right thing. That morning she asked God, “If you still want me to go ahead with this project will you just get one person to ask me about this necklace today”.
Michelle is now charging along with this enterprise. I offered to give her space in the studio as it fitted in perfectly with what we do here. She had her first display in the cafe and is now showing her stock in other places. I was able to help her with some contacts and advice and we are now fast friends.
3: Then there is Juliette. Juliette is a 12 month old baby girl who has or ‘had’ leukaemia this year. Currently she is 60 days cancer free. .. Whoop…. When we first met Juliet’s family, Ju Ju was in hospital. She was in hospital for about 5 months. Many days were touch and go for her as she was waiting for a bone marrow transplant. She needed daily transfusions and had other critical complications. It was extremely hard. Ju Ju’s mother was a regular on Saturday mornings which is how we heard her story. Saturday mornings happened to be her ‘day off’ from hospital and she told us all about her baby girl.
There was a practical way that we could support her and it was to give her an open tab at the cafe so that she needn’t pay for her Saturday mornings off. Practically we connected with Team Juliette on face book and started supporting the blood donor programme that they were running as well as praying for her and sending her our love and support.
A few weeks ago Juliette was allowed home from hospital after a successful transplant. We had journeyed for months with the family so when Juliet’s first outing was to come to the cafe we were over the moon. Of course she had to sit outside because of her low immunity but we were ecstatic that she was finally out of hospital. One of the happiest days of the year for our little community.
Then there is Nige. Niganthen is a refugee from Sri Lanka. He came by boat 7 years ago. At the back of the cafe we have a two bedroom for house which we call The House of Hope. In December 2015 we were able to sponsor two refugee men out of detention. Nige had been in detention for 6 years and has an incredible story that you can read here “I am a refugee I came by Boat”. When we receive asylum seekers we support them rent free. We get them a job and transport. Language skills and counselling are offered giving them an opportunity to get rental history and work history so that they can settle into the community.
This photo was taken at one of our Tamil Feasts. Nige works in the cafe and at certain times we do community Tamil Feasts that Nige cooks.
All of the proceeds of our Tamil Feasts go toward supporting the ‘House of Hope’.
As the Cafe is a not for profit social enterprise any profit that we make goes back into the community.
How do we support the community?
• Grants and funding to community groups
• Housing and employment of asylum seekers
• By providing free studio space for a large variety of creative artists
• Compassionate Vouchers
We also support the community by offering this space for other like minded enterprises.
We care passionately about community, food and coffee. We are a quirky, loveable team who are in awe of our remarkable volunteers who ‘rock our world’.
We have an amazing group of volunteers who are our heroes. They work alongside our waiters, chefs and baristas and ‘they’ are what keep this project alive and jumping. You might meet one welcoming you to your table, arranging a piece of art, killing it in the kitchen or serving you your own special plate of goodness.
They are the heart and soul of what we are all about at NNY. Because really, we are all about people. We believe in the power of community, in doing life together, in collective wisdom, in new ideas, in collaboration and if we need motivation, we borrow some from each other.
We are all about being the presence of God, a redemptive presence in our community. We are all about loving people and doing life together in the community in which we live.
If you are not in community with those in the margins then something is wrong with your version of the Gospel.
The Gospel was never meant to be talked about it was meant to be lived and demonstrated.
“The center is not the place where Christian faith should be anyway: it was born on the margins to serve the whole humanity … social marginality is not to be bemoaned but celebrated.” Miroslav Volf.
This is a summary of the Emerging Church by Richard Rhor.
To find out more about what the Emerging Church is you can read this article on the Emerging Church. What is the Emerging Church?
Featured Photo is of an art sculpture by one of our Artists Tim Read from Tread Sculptures.
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