“We’re not a café church. We are church”
The Table, Cardiff: the story of how a Baptist church dispensed with its Sunday gathering to do church in a new way
When Rob Morse first visited Pentyrch St Baptist Church, he admits he questioned whether it should “just close up”. After all, there are plenty of other good churches in Cardiff to accommodate its members, several right on their doorstep.
But the reply from the eight-strong congregation was definite: “We believe God has told us to keep the doors open. And we’re going to do it, no matter what.”
Rob and wife Kate joined the fellowship, and sensing something different was on the horizon, invited the congregation to accept some changes.
“We need to start thinking differently,” Rob told them. “God is a creator God, and we are created in his image. We need to rediscover creativity that breaks with convention, that frees thinking and does not confine faith to experience.
"We need to be creative in our responses to mission in the area. What does not change is the Word of God, the truth; we stand by it, we stand on it, we love through it.”
Out went a traditional church programme, for what defines them is their identity in Christ, not a programme, Rob explains. “For a small congregation it was not right that we allowed a predetermined ‘church’ programme to direct our living and serving. We are not called a church because we have a Sunday morning service, a Tuesday evening Bible study, a Saturday morning prayer breakfast, with everything else in between.
"We are a church because the Lord has saved us and called us. Now let us discover the passions he has given us, the gifts with which he has enthused us, and let us serve in those areas.”
He wanted them to grow as a group of believers by exercising their gifts and ministries. It was, he says, redefining the nature of church, not squeezing people into ‘roles’ but freeing members to ‘run in the paths of his commands, for he has set our hearts free’ [Ps 119].
Don’t misunderstand them – Rob has a passion for the Word and for waiting on the Lord. The group meet to pray and study and reflect on the Word. They break bread and praise the Lord, but just not at ‘normal times’, and always around tables.
The emphasis is on releasing gift, and this is served and empowered by prayer and the Word. “Didn’t we once believe and practice the priesthood of all believers? This is about 100% of the body engaging in true fellowship of the gospel.”
Where everybody has somebody
It took the group two years to arrive at a vision: where everybody has somebody. Based on the ministry of reconciliation from II Cor 5, the vision challenges everything they do. Anyone can come in and there will be no judgements. It’s one thing saying that, but another thing altogether to show that you mean it.
The main change that Rob wanted to bring to the church was the centrality of the Word and the call of the Lord to daily devotional living.
Lesser changes included creating a building that expresses where everybody has somebody, and converting the upstairs classrooms into a flat.
Downstairs looks like a professional coffee shop, serving a wide range of good food and desserts, all freshly prepared on site. It is open as a coffee shop every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The income helps the church to run its other faith building events at other times, including anti-poverty support, Esteem [raising aspiration and reducing isolation amongst the elderly], and prayer and intercession.
At present everyone who serves at The Table is a volunteer but the hope is that within three years it will be able to sustain a living wage for a young couple to come live here and develop the ministry.
But the café itself is “church”.
“We thought – what has God given us, how can we make this sustainable as a very small congregation?” Rob says. “But the three days themselves are becoming massive with regards to mission. Sharing Jesus, sharing the gospel with people who are coming in. So this is church.”
“We’re not a café church. I’m not sure what one of those is. We are church.
“We do not aim to grow a congregation. If we are leading people to faith in Christ, or others need ministry that we cannot meet, we lead them to other congregations in the area. We are about growing the Church in Cardiff. What’s the point in us wanting people to stay here and ‘join us’ if another larger fellowship in the area can more ably support and disciple them?”
however, some want to remain…..
…..Four years ago Tom [not real name] knocked on the door and asked for money. “Sorry, Tom, we have no silver or gold, but what I have I can give you.” “What’s that?”, he said. “A sandwich and Jesus”. And in June of this year, four years later, Tom gave his life to the Lord sitting eating a sandwich at The Table. He now ‘does church’ by eating sandwiches, reading verses with Rob, and talking with the Lord. The Table is Tom’s church.
The name “The Table” is inspired by the Parable of the Banquet (Luke 14: 15-24).
“I heard someone preaching about the banquet table at Woodville Baptist Church, not too far from us, at the time when we were about to open for the first time. Go out into the highways and byways and invite people in. So we call the work, “The Table” and enjoy the company of those who may not necessarily expect it.
“Everything we do is around a table. We’re always eating or drinking, sharing a word, the gospel around tables, opening Bibles.”
Community links have been building over the last four years. For instance, last Christmas they sent a couple of cakes to bless the teachers of a nearby school. It resulted in teachers using The Table for their inset day at the beginning of January. Rob was able to explain his story, of answered (and ‘not answered’) prayers, of frustrations and joys, about their faith journey over the last four years. The school children are now coming for award ceremonies, lessons and after school clubs. “Instead of a Sunday school of zero, we’ve now got 150!”
And people are finding faith.
“There are great signs,” Rob says. “We’re not just preparing food, we’re creating an environment where everybody has somebody.
And they would value your prayer. Rob explains their greatest need: “Whenever we are serving we are always praying, seeking to keep in step with the Spirit. Our prayer is that we remain spiritually sharp, keen to sense the leading of the Lord, sensitive to his whisper. Please pray for us that whilst we are busy around tables, we are mindful of our purpose and the leading of the Lord. We are not about feeding the body. We want to be about feeding the body and the soul.”
Rob and Kate Morse at The Table's first wedding