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The Coffee Shop: Creating a Welcoming Parish

By Deacon Adrian Cullen

Nearly two billion cups of coffee are sold in the UK each year, with 85% of us visiting a coffee shop at least once per week. Now there is a good place to start if you want to meet a few people! Of course, people will go into a coffee shop for more than just coffee: the mother with her toddler and the baby in the pram and the shopping goes in ‘just for a sit down’, and to meet with a friend with her bundle of goods; the colleagues from the office are there to go over their presentation before they see their client; and there are often a few teenagers who gather to swap gossip from the latest Facebook posts, or to share the latest spoof video of a celebrity. In the corner a student works quietly, with headphones plugged in so they can be in their own little world, away from distractions. While, near the window, the two pensioners, who regularly call in for their weekly coffee and favourite cake, wave to friends who pass by.

In some ways coffee is just the excuse to sit down and make time for what is important, to find out what’s new, and above all for friendship. In many parishes coffee and other refreshments are served after Mass, which gives an opportunity for the parish community to meet more informally. It can also be a great opportunity to welcome new people to the parish. A new face, someone hovering, just waiting for someone to say, ‘Hi, are you coming to join us for a coffee?’

Through Proclaim ’15 many parishes identified initiatives which aimed at making parishioners, visitors and new people to the parish welcomed into the parish. Sometimes the welcome was aimed at specific groups; for example Hoxton reported a weekly drop-in for homeless people, with hot drinks and sandwiches; while in Hertford there are regular coffee mornings, which extend to monthly lunches, and, as in Pimlico, are aimed at bringing families together in an atmosphere of prayer.

Sometimes coffee and tea provide an excuse to help parishioners show their support for a needy cause, as in Cheshunt where proceeds from the monthly get-together go to CAFOD. In Wapping the May procession ended with a celebratory tea party. In all these ways, the simple offer of a cup of tea or coffee, or some other refreshment, is an opportunity to strengthen the parish community, to show care for those in need, and to welcome strangers to the life of the Church. But, we need to be on the lookout at all times: it is sad to see a stranger who responds to the first welcome, only to be seen a little later drinking their coffee alone. If their life in the parish is to grow, they need nurturing and encouragement.

Welcoming is an active and ongoing process. It is good if there is a team dedicated to welcoming people at the church door at the start of Mass, and to extend this ministry to the parish hall afterwards; and to other occasions when visitors and strangers may be coming into the parish. Perhaps as we look toward Easter, when we not only see visitors to the parish, but we see also existing parishioners who don’t often come the church itself, additional arrangements for welcoming can be put in place. So, as each new visitor steps out from experiencing a wonderful liturgy, how pleasing would it also be to hear someone say, ‘Hi, would you like to come into the hall for a coffee?’