Solace ~ Church in a bar

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48 years old and last Sunday I could be found en-route to Cardiff to go `clubbing`!!!   Well, to say this, is a bit of an exageration as it was more of an event held in a nightclub.

Beginning on April 1st 2007 by James Karran (a Baptist Pastor) and Wendy Sanderson ( a Church Army worker), its aim is to make Christianity relevant and accessible in the 21st century post chrstendom society. When many young people are not even considering Church life, but ARE interested in spiritual matters this is an exciting and bold initiative to meet their needs. I first found out about this through their website http://www.solace- cardiff.org.uk and felt I needed to go and find out more, and so began a 6 hour round trip of 400 miles just to go for a drink !   I was glad I did.

Their initial target group when they began, was the student community but this has gradually evolved into a wider group of anyone involved in the club/pub culture. They meet in different nightclubs. The night I attended the meeting was in clubiforbach, the premier student club in Cardiff. The club actually make a loss on hosting these evenings as they only charge £50, but they see it as helping a good cause; it also gives them good publicity. James felt it was important not to be in a church setting as this made them more approachable to younger people. The staff of the club are non~christian and they certainly seemed to enjoy what was happening.

James felt that it was important that there be no cringe~factor in this work; it has to meet the people were they are. I couldn`t help thnk about the number of times Jesus met people in the marketplace, on the streets etc. Although he obviously attended the Synagogue and considered this important, he also went to where questions were being asked. John Wesley was later to do the same with his field preaching. James and Wendy have ensured Christ is known in the nightclub scene.

It is a mixture of entertainment (straightforward gigs), speakers, and discussion topics. They`ve just completed a series of themes about sex and are aware that in their venue it is sometimes easier to look at issues the church finds harder to tackle. The very name, solace, refers to a place where people can feel safe to ask questions.

Solace is asking and searching the question of “What is an authentic Christian community ?” and so it needs to be relationship based, not simply church on a Sunday in a club. Consequently they`re exploring the question of what does church look like in this situation ?

The night I attended was a gig. Apparently they usually have a Christian and a Non~christian band, but unfortunately the Christian had pulled outdue to illness. Thankfully the manager of the other band BENSEM offered to fill in. She was very good, as were Bensem themselves. Loud (very), but the quality was there and there seemed to be a special presence over the whole evening.

What was the Church content ? The notices at the beginning simply consisted of a welcome and an advert for the following week, and then we were into the music. On the face of it there was little if any Christian input, but there was a lot of prayer befrete evening began, especially prayer that God would open up conversations that could begin relationships. How often do we pray that in Church life ?

I raised the difficult practical issues of finance and church. The evening was free but the band still had to be paid and the club itself, but there was no collection or anything similar. The principle is that the Gospel should be free. Where does the money come from ? Grants from the Baptist Union. Church of England, and also from the local council, as well as personal donations from interested supporters give a backbone to the work, but its a real hand to mouth existence.

The flak from the established church sometimes come in the question of “wheres the Sunday evidence ? an accusation leveled at many different types of work in many different churches up and down the land. I asked how James and Wendy gauged success. They saw success in terms of the local councils support for the work, by seeing the numbers increasing week by week and by seeing relationships developing.

Advertising is largely by word of mouth or by the internet. They have their own website http://www.solace-cardiff.org.uk/ and also advertise on www.myspace.com so if you`re going to Cardiff over a Sunday why not lok them up and have a bar experience of Church. I`m glad I did and I would love to go again and take some others with me.

Thanks James and Wendy for all your time, support and every blessing on you and your work.

 I want to close with some famous words that were displayed on a screen over the performance area at the beginning of the night, while people were milling around. You might recognise them………………………….

“Are you tired, worn out

burned out with religion.

Get away with me and

you`ll recover your life”

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Solace

Following a fascinating visit to SOLACE (see Fresh Expressions) please pray for Wendy and James and the work they`re doing with the nightclub community in Cardiff.

Newcastle Falcons

Rev Dave Elkington is the chaplain to the other North Eastern sporting giants, Newcastle Falcons, the local Rugby Union team (www.newcastle-falcons.co.uk); Dave has been chaplain to the Falcons for 4 seasons now, although has been a ticket holder or much longer. His Christian journey is one of an ex sports teacher who has a passion for Rugby and Cricket, so to take up a chaplaincy such as this is a natural progression of skills, gifts and passion. How often does the Holy Spirit develop and build what he has already put there ?

Dave shared with me how Score approached him and the club, but initially the club were wary. One of the key influences was Inga Tuigamala, the great Rugby international, who is also well known for his Christian faith.

Although it was acknowledged that each club operates its chaplaincy differently Dave seemed to be in a unique position of having open access to the club at any time; a very visible presence. Under the nickname of “Rev” Dave makes it his policy to try and visit the club every Wednesday, as well as match days and other occasions. In this way he becomes available should he be needed, without pushing himself forward and in a non~threatenng way. Dave seems to put a lot of effort into keeping in touch with club developments, especially checking the club website every day. As with other chaplains he considers it important to see beyond the playing side and see the players as whole people, with lives to live; lives which include the same day to day concerns as the rest of us.

Because of this it was important to spend as much time with the academy as with the first team. Not only is this a part of building for the future but it sends a message to the whole club that you`re not just there for the glory of mixing with the famous, but that you do care for everyone. The youngsters also remember the care and concern shown, when they do eventually graduate. Dave used a phrase “they are an important part of our club“. Again lesson to be learnt here by the church; show an interest in the young and nurture them through to maturity. They`re not just the future church, but an important part of the church today.

In a similar way we spoke about the backroom staff. Dave felt that they too needed the care and concern of the club chaplain, but to the average fan are often forgotten because they are not seen.

Returning to the players Dave observed that most of them are highly intelligent living lives that revolve around their interests and hobbies. The chaplain, therefore, needs to be aware of what they`re interested in ready for any questions they may have. This was shown in the recent release of the Da Vinci Code, book and film. For a period of time it became the topic of conversation within the club asnd Dave was naturally the one to focus the questions on. There is a great need to be culturally aware of the world around us ad meet that awareness. Its no good expecting the sporting world to come to our way of thinking before we`ve even begun to understand theirs. How often does the church expect the world to turn to our ways of doing things before we`ve even tried to understand theirs ?

Dav felt strongly that he was often the link between club and church, but needed to show that he is not the exception ! The danger is that the chaplain can be seen as a good person whilst the rest of the church is bad. Daves role involves letting the club know that the church cares for them. Consequently at the beginning of every season every player recieves a letter of welcome from the chaplain. His ticket is to sit with the families of the players so it is another opportunity to get alongside people in a non~threatening way.

The message at all times is “if you want me, I`m here, but if you don`t I`m not offended

As I discovered elsewhere the key words are relationship and trust. Dave was determined (and rightly so) not to betray any confidences (I think I`d have been disappointed if he had). Trust is vital; how many times have I heard this over the pas tmonth ?

In order to build up relationships it is vital to understand personality tpes so that everyone is treat differently but appropriately. There is a need to learn the differece between banter and more serious conversations and all the time to give the message that conversations are to take place at their speed and time. I felt that this was very much a people centred ministry as it should be. It was also acknowledged that in difficult times the chaplain is often the one who takes the flak (hurt, anger etc) but cannot afford to take it personally.

We reflected on the honesty of the sporting world. Life is messy and yet many Christains don`t recognise it or hide their own messiness. Weaknesses are discouraged by and large, whereas in sport the messiness of live seems to be more visible and consequently is dealt with in a different way. Often it can be confronted. Perhaps this is because a club needs to run in a business like manner, tackling issues and causes.

Following on from this w reflected on how a struggling club will deal with its problems by changing whats necessary, players, club structure, club fnances etc. but so often a struggling church doesn`t. Is this because …………..

1) they don`t recognise strengths and weaknesses or because they see closure etc. as failure ?

2) churches have lost recongition of their purpose, whereas the sporting world knows its purpose and mission ?

3) churches are congregational based, thereby meaning the purpose for existence depends on the likes and dislikes of the congregation ?

I feel that it is pobably a mixture of all three but certainly the church would do well to look at the sporting world and model itself more on its ability to change and move with the times. Perhaps we need more of what I call the Lucozade model; dealing with things the way the soft drink manufacturers did years ago, when they changed their appearance and marketing, but retained the content in its truest form. Consequently it is one of the highest soft drink retailers in the world now.

Certainly it is worth checking out the website and discovering the four aims of the Falcons community programme, which are as follows………..

The work of the Community Programme is based on four guiding principles:

  • Accessibility To ensure that professional players are accessible to the community and become involved in all elements of community work.
  • Continuity To make sure that community relationships go beyond being short term or one-off experiences.
  • Quality To make all programmes of the highest quality through management by qualified, skilled and motivated staff.
  • Purpose To make all work worthwhile and congruent with the objectives of the Newcastle Falcons.

Churches could learn much from this.

I rounded off a most enlightening day with a visit to the club, a delightful meal in the club bar “The Hiding Place” and a tour of the ground. If ever I can find out how to upload my pictures there will be a picture of the ground on here. Thanks to Dave for  wonderful day.

Alisons Mum

Following the passing of my Father in Law, Les, I would appreciate it if you could hold Alisons Mum, Freda, in your prayers as she readjusts her life to cope with her new circumstances.

Trent Cruise

Sunday July 29th saw Alison and I on yet another cruise !!  Two in one year.

This time it was a little closer to home, the River Trent in Nottingham. Thanks to the generosity of good friends from Oldham, we we treat to a 3 hour meal whilst cruising down the Trent, on the Trent Lady.

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The firm we went with can be found at www.trentcruising.com         

It was a very leisurely trip taking us past all the important cultural parts of the city, such as Nottingham Forest football ground, the Meadows, an ex~german gun boat, Holme Pierrepoint and past a mansion house which we declared would make an ideal retirement home. We probably couldn`t afford the car parked outside let alone the house.

The 3 course meal included a lovely pork and beef carvery after the starter (I had melon), and we both had profiteroles for desserts. Combined with several glasses of wine and a pint of guiness it was a beautiful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We still managed Church before and after as well.

All in all it was very different from our Rhine cruise but equally enjoyable and memorable. Our deep grateful thanks to those who made this possible.