In December 2014, three recently retired ladies from St Peter’s, Thurleigh asked what can we do for our village? Their answer: “let’s just open up a café and see what happens”.
And so began Meeting Place, a fortnightly Monday afternoon gathering that now regularly welcomes 60 of the approximately 700 residents of Thurleigh village into the church building.
People of all ages attend; it’s a space for a cup of coffee and a chat, with children’s activities available. Seasonal celebrations such as Christmas and Easter are marked with songs towards the end of the gathering.
Priest-in-charge, Revd. Peter Kay goes to Meeting Place with his son, and feels that it has become an important community gathering: “that whole generational thing is quite remarkable… we get pregnant women in late pregnancy who maybe are twiddling their thumbs, getting a bit bored, and they’ll turn up to Meeting Place… and then literally two weeks later they will come along with baby that they’re passing around…to me that feels like a very socially rich thing to do and just really glorious…as well as a kind of spiritual thing we’re developing social, emotional bonds in a village.”
Meeting Place is a space of physical and (for some) spiritual refreshment. Discipleship is centred around relationships and Peter and other parishioners are available for pastoral conversations. As it became more established, the leaders considered the role of Meeting Place in discipleship. Some fresh expressions of community evolve to become fresh expressions of church – but for others this may not be the natural or most appropriate course of action. Peter reflects that to try and “raise the (spiritual) bar” at Meeting Place may radically alter the safe, community-focused nature of the gathering.
Instead, through conversations with those engaged with Meeting Place, a family-focused church service on the first Sunday each month at 4pm, called ‘1-4-All’ was founded in January 2018.
1-4-All is in its early stages, but the parish hopes that the new service will provide opportunities to learn more about faith through drama and story time. They also hope to build on the relational-based expressions of discipleship nurtured through Meeting Place.
Peter’s advice to other parishes discovering ways they can reach new people?
“The relationships that you make are absolutely fundamental…you discern about the people who are actually more open, [who are] open to invest in or to connect with more…I think that the tension is just to keep a kind of long-term vision about what you want to do…not just sort of stop and go ‘oh we’ve made friends, that’s a really nice thing to do’.”