All Together in Graffoe

Can church be like a café? Picture a modern secular building where people are sitting around tables enjoying refreshments and eating biscuits and pastries but there are bible readings, prayers, hymns and worship songs (with liturgically coloured table cloths of course!). The legally required elements of a Church of England service are all there but in a way that looks and feels rather different, relaxed and informal.

This was the vision of Revd Michelle Godbold, Rector in the United Benefice of Graffoe. Her parish recently launched the All Ages Café Church in one of the local schools, which sits alongside other traditional services in the churches.  

Michelle joined the parish in October 2016 after feeling called to the parish from a profile that suggested that there was great potential for growth. On arrival she immediately set about getting the parish together to think about its future and came up with a vision as to how they could reach out to new people of all ages, but particularly to families and those not used to formal worship.  Would the existing worshippers share her vision and come along on the journey with her? 

Michelle said: “What I suggested was pretty radical but we had to make changes as the number of worshippers in our traditional congregations is dwindling and so are our finances. We had a once a month family service which took place on a Sunday afternoon but it was struggling to engage new families and also to keep them once the children grew up, so we knew we needed to do something.  

“Like many colleagues around the diocese with multiple churches, I am one person trying to cover six churches which is difficult to do effectively. Often that meant that I couldn’t stop to talk to people after Sunday morning services as I had to dash to another. This wasn’t sustainable and we had to change not just for the sake of change but adapt for growth. The plan sought not only to build a new congregation but to improve our existing worship and forge a sense of hope, purpose and missional discipleship in our church communities.”

Following a year of getting to know people and coming together as a parish for two 'Vision Days' to reflect, worship and dream, the beginning of an idea had begun to form just before she went on maternity leave in October 2017. At its heart, her plan was to bring the parish together to plant a new church which met at the same time, in the same place, every week. It would be a project that encompassed all seven villages and it would be a church that was aimed at all ages, resembling the structure of a traditional service but that was flexible and informal in its approach. She spoke to the ministry team at Edward King House and they were supportive of her proposal.

After maternity leave her initiative was put before the PCC and it received an understandably mixed reception.  Some of the reaction was based on fear – this wasn’t traditional church so how was this going to help their situation? Others were very positive – “Go for it” they said.

Michelle felt acutely the burden of the success or failure of her plan - what if they ended up in a worse position either numerically or financially? “I had many sleepless nights worrying about it and praying that it was the right thing to do. But it was impossible to stay as we were and we had to be honest about that; we needed to grow and change and bridge what is traditional with a modern approach” she said.

She added: “Preparing for the PCC meeting at which the decision to adopt the proposal would be made the bible passage about Moses and the Red Sea came to me – and it really resonated with me that God was with us, we were all in this together. The theme of water and boats kept coming to me in various guises during my times of prayer in relation to the project and I kept praying for our new church to be a success.”

Her prayers were answered as on the first day of the launch of the new church she had hoped for 30 people but 60 turned up and she was “blown away” with the response. At the launch Michelle could see how the church community had taken to heart the message of discipleship and were wanting to pass their faith on, telling others about Jesus.

A few months later and it is still going well. There is a range of traditional services that sit alongside the weekly informal modern service and now includes the addition of Holy communion from the Book of Common Prayer. This has all been made possible by the support of her voluntary ministry team, a dedicated group of helpers and the church community at large.

The PCC has also changed their baptism policy as part of their mission project and now asks that families come to church twice (traditional or café church) before the baptism to attend worship and to meet the church family. They are also invited to come back afterwards.  “It’s lovely to see the families really feeling part of the church family and the feedback we have been getting from all ages has been great” Michelle said. “We try and make the worship varied and accessible and we seem to be succeeding in this. I hope to introduce communion at some point” she added.

While embarking on this journey, Michelle speaks of praying with her fellow churchgoers intentionally and finding that God’s love was meeting them where they were. “We could have waited until we had to make huge changes but for what? The Church of England needs people that go out there and get stuck in. I feel a strong calling towards intentional evangelism, as do others in my parish, we believe it is what Jesus called us to do.”

To achieve her aims Michelle was also successful in obtained a £5,000 grant from the Transformation fund. More details about this can be found on the diocesan website.

If you would like help in planning your church's mission please contact Revd Fran Jeffries in the Mission Planning Team on T: 01205 48 11 83 or email [email protected]