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How do lavatories and serveries help mission?

01 November 2013

As we consider fitting a servery and lavatories into our church, how do people find that they help in mission?

IN MY reading of the Early Church in the New Testament, churches were essentially people's homes, where people would meet and where the hospitality included feeding all those who came. Later, when churches became well-established in their own purpose-built meeting-places, the hospitality became symbolically represented in the eucharistic meal.

In our generation, it is hard to envisage mission to unchurched people happening without hospitality in refreshments and the back-up facility that lavatories provide. Hospitality is an ice-breaking activity that does not require people to understand the symbolic before they can get to know what church is about.

Whether at the fête, the jumble sale, or the coffee morning, the provision of refreshments is always important. One of my Good Friday services had a higher attendance than on any Sunday of the year when we offered hot cross buns to all comers.

Refreshments are not mission, however; they are the context for mission. There is a kind of unconditional love shown to people by volunteers' turning up to provide hospitality. There will be no extension in mission just by having a servery and lavatories without people to engage with and chat to as a means of making friends.

In previous generations, it would have been hard to imagine that so many people in our parishes would have had no knowledge or experience of even being in a church. Offering hospitality in the place where worship also takes place gives opportunity for familiarity to develop, and for barriers and doubts to diminish. The sociable atmosphere over tea and cake allows questions to be asked, misconceptions to be gently addressed, and common interest to be identified.

Churches' mission through hospitality extends also to catering for the poor in our society, and to the poor in spirit. There are churches that provide daily café provision for the homeless, for the elderly, for day centres, and for the general public. These range from churches that lease out part of their premises to a café or restaurant that is run professionally to churches that provide a weekly coffee-morning, or daily lunches run by volunteers. Some of these functions clearly require a kitchen rather than a servery, including cooking rather than heating-up provision.

Think carefully (and, in the words of the parable, measure carefully) before opting for a kitchen - it will cost much more to install, and will be more intrusive in your church - but most of all check that you have the resources to run it well. For all but the smallest activity, you would probably need a professional manager; and a realistic assessment of the availability of a host of suitable volunteers is needed.

The volunteer programme should include sufficient people for them each to have "time off" to allow for volunteers' being, perhaps, less committed to turning up than those who are paid. Have some slack in the planned numbers, and have regular training schedules to keep everyone up to date, not only on what you are trying to achieve but also on essentials as health and safety in the kitchen and café, and good working practice.

If cooking is only an occasional activity, then a servery is probably the way to go. If, in future years, the church gets so busy that a kitchen is essential, then that is the time to work on getting it installed.

Send your questions, comments and issues to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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