Change The World Creativity Society Theology United Reformed Church work

Could SOUP in your church change the world

Who else needs your space?

My churches hosting co-working revelation got me thinking…

Church halls have often been a hive of activity with anything from Boys’ Brigade to dance classes and slimming clubs.

That’s all good.

But who are you missing?

How can you help your community to engage with each other and make things better?  How could your church support community projects and create and nurture community at the same time?

Detroit SOUP – image by Dave Lewinski



Detroit SOUP inspires me.  Why? Because it’s easy and effective.

Here’s what SOUP say about SOUP:

SOUP is:

Detroit SOUP is a microgranting dinner celebrating and supporting creative projects in Detroit. For a donation $5 attendees receive soup, salad, bread and a vote and hear from four presentations ranging from art, urban agriculture, social justice, social entrepreneurs, education, technology and more. Each presenter has four minutes to share their idea and answer four questions from the audience. At the event, attendees eat, talk, share resources, enjoy art and vote on the project they think benefits the city the most. At the end of the night, we count the ballots and the winner goes home with all of the money raised to carry out their project. Winners come back to a future SOUP dinner to report their project’s progress.

Perhaps it’s easier to watch what happens:

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So, could you do something like SOUP in your church hall?

I think you could.

Design Thinking Life

Creating community around coffee and art

There are times when you stumble across something really quite special.

In the middle of a break on the Isle of Skye, Avril and I rounded a corner on a single track road in  and instantly recognised a wooden house which was featured on the TV show Grand Designs.  I’m going to try to explain what happened next…


The house is stunning but our attention was drawn to the small studio behind the main house and the sign on the fence… Single Track Art & Espresso.  It was that time of the day when a coffee seems like the best idea in the world but art and coffee in a brilliantly designed building…  what’s not to like?

single track 2

As we entered the cafe we immediately felt really welcome.  It’s hard to explain why.  The space is relaxed with a counter to sit at around two sides and four tables together in the centre of the room.  There are no separate tables so the people who were there, both locals and tourists, were chatting about where to go, what to see and where they had come from.  Indi, the owner/barista, was making coffee and drawing people gently into the conversation.

Single Track(Photo from

People were just leaving when we arrived.  We were guided through the menu of coffee, hot chocolate (no ordinary chocolate!) and teas.  Tea was only added to the menu when the tea shop along the road decided not to open.  Complementary not competition was the motivation here.

We ordered a flat white for me and a hot chocolate with chilli and stuff for Avril and cake.  As Indi made our drinks she told us that Single Track had only been open for a couple of weeks.  It was an experiment that had grown organically out of a couple of gatherings of friends and wondering how this space could add something special to an already special place.  Artisan coffee and chocolate was the answer.

A young couple arrived and ordered takeaway coffee, just at the time the bank was due.  In island communities the bank comes to you, in a van, with a man in a suit and everything.

The bank and the couple left leaving us to chat more with Indi about art, coffee and Moleskine notebooks.  She’s a big fan of my favourite notebooks so we chatted about evernote, the mobile app which can link to your notebook using smart stickers.  Anyone who has a Moleskine catalogue as part of the reading material in a cafe has life sussed as far as I’m concerned!

The drinks were fantastic and the view…

single track 1

Well, the view is something else.

We chatted and drank and looked out the window and chatted some more.  Then we left with cakes.  The bank coming had interrupted the cake serving but it really didn’t matter.  We would be back.  We tweeted @singletrackskye to say so.

In fact we ended up back the very next day.  It was the first thing we said in the morning… ‘Let’s go back there today.’

But why?  Sure, the coffee is better than great and the hot chocolate is pretty special, but why drive 12 miles for a drink?  Because we weren’t going there for the drinks, or even the cakes.

We were going for the community.

I’m still trying to work out what it is about this small space that is so special.  It could be the design, the view, the cups, the art, the coffee, the host, the way the tables encourage conversation or allow you just to stare out the window, the Moleskine notebooks, pencils and pens, the yellow chairs…

Perhaps it’s just the sum of its parts.

I think it is more likely that all of this is deliberate.  Creating this kind of community is never accidental.  It takes work, persistence, design and vision.  And it works.

Single Track Art & Espresso is more than a coffee shop.  It’s a community centre that brings together the local people of Skye and those who come to this amazing island to visit.  It creates a space where everyone is part of the same community for a while, where stories of travels are encouraged, where advice is shared and coffee and hot chocolate are elevated to the same artistic expression as the paintings on the wall.

It is special.

Go there.  And tell Indi we sent you.




Emerging Church God, Faith & Church Theology United Reformed Church

better together

Iain mentioned in a facebook response to my last post that he hadn’t yet heard me talk about partnership…

I was struck by the comment because for me partnership is implicit in community engagement.

When I talk about how the church needs to engage with communities of course I mean with people but I also mean with organisations, agencies and institutions.

Perhaps it’s because my training is in Community Education that for me looking for people to work together with on things seems the natural thing to do.

Why wouldn’t a church want to share resources, make space available, support activities and work towards the well-being of its community?

But that doesn’t appear to be the natural response of lots of churches.  I think that’s what I meant in my previous post when I said that too much of that kind of activity is too dependant on the attitude of the minister or on whoever holds the power.  I shouldn’t be.  It should be the default position of all churches.

The ones that do this flourish, the ones that don’t seem almost to set themselves in opposition to their communities, as though their church is some kind of holy huddle sheltering from the big bad world.

Engagement is relational.  You can’t engage with someone or something that doesn’t want to be engaged with.  That’s just nagging.

That’s not what we are called to.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark’s account to Jesus being rejected in his hometown.  The people in Nazareth know Jesus.  They know his mum and his brothers and sisters and they don’t want to be preached at by the carpenter’s boy.  Who does he think he is?  Not much unusual in that!

For me what’s more interesting is what comes next…

Jesus sends out the disciples to minister to engage with the surrounding villages.

‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.   Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.”

That’s got to be working in partnership with the community.  You can’t work like that without the collaboration of the community.  You’d starve!  To survive in that kind of relationship with a community you’d need to be bringing something pretty special to the table.

I think the church does bring many things to a partnership, not least a group of people deeply committed to working together to make the world a better place but we need to stop viewing the world with suspicion and start seeing the opportunities to work with our partners for good.

It’s maybe telling that the church has been much better at working with partners in foreign lands to solve problems far away than we have at working with our neighbours in our own communities…

Perhaps the placing of the two incidents in this week’s Gospel isn’t accidental after all…

Change The World Emerging Church Life running Society

Being Alone, Together

Yesterday I wrote about running alone and how parkrun might give people like the chance to ‘run alone together’ (as Leo said in his comment).

John Orr took the thought and expanded it to church. I like when that happens. His question was ‘How can we create opportunities for people to join in without having to join up?’. I think that’s a great question and it strikes to the very heart of some of the conversations the church (almost all of them) is having.

I join in without joining up every day. I use Twitter and Facebook (and sometimes Google+ but it seems a bit too much like joining up) to see what my friends are up to. Sometimes I see that they are where I am and we arrange to have coffee. Sometimes we don’t. There is no pressure.

Today I’ve been attending the New York Times Schools for Tomorrow conference in New York… from my desk in Hamilton, Scotland. I’ve talked with people about the issues being discussed on Twitter and Facebook and over dinner with my wife. I’ll take some of those thoughts to ICC next Tuesday and share them with my class.

I don’t have to sign up for anything.

I didn’t have to pay anything.

No-one asked anything of me.

I was free to take part as much or as little as I wanted to.

When I ran the Great Scottish Run I eventually took my earphone out of one ear. I like music when I run, but felt like I was missing something of the experience. My iPhone doesn’t cheer you on like the people lining the streets did, it just told me I was running too slow. Music is great but doesn’t give you water or hose you down. My iPhone doesn’t reach out a hand for a hi-5 or take your photo or hug you and say ‘Well done’ even though you are soaking with sweat.

Running a race is about running alone together.

But so is life.

We seek out places where other people are. Beaches, parks, cinemas, shops and churches. We don’t need to speak to people when we are there but there are few feelings as unnerving as when you leave your house and don’t see a single living soul for 10 minutes. At times of tragedy and celebration people feel a need to join together, often with complete strangers.

I was at a church that had lunch after the service because it was a special Sunday, a celebration. I heard an elderly lady say that ‘This is great. It’s so much better than going home to eat alone.’

A sandwich lunch is an opportunity to be alone together. It costs nothing to do. People bring their own and you can sit in the corner if you like or speak to people if you want to.

Church services are a chance to be alone together. You can sit, not interact much and go home. But there is a sense of an underlying pressure to Join Up, not just Join In.

There are lots of issues that people coalesce around. Jubilee 2000 and the Make Poverty History campaign are great examples. I believe in that. Hold a protest and I’ll join in. It doesn’t matter that we disagree about other things, we agree about this so let’s work together.

Community is a good thing. Being connected to each other is important.

My wife has gone out to meet her friends. I’m pouring our my thoughts to a computer, alone. We are both building community.

I’m just doing it Alone, Together with you.


Park life

I’ve decided that I quite like running.  There.  I said it.

Unlike the last time I ran a half marathon, this time I’ve kept running.  One of the reasons is that I like to get outside and I like to get away from my desk for a while.

I’m lucky.  We live just a few minutes from Strathclyde Country Park and the River Clyde so I have some great places to run.

I run by myself.  I’m not sure I’m much of a ‘joiner’.  Running suits me in that regard.  I can stick on my iPhone, listen to music and get lost in my thoughts.


I’m tempted by ParkRun.

ParkRuns are popping up all over the UK (and around the world).  There is one at Strathclyde Park.  You just register online, print your personal barcode and rock up at 9.30am on a Saturday morning for a timed 5km run with other people who probably spend the rest of the week running alone.

Strathclyde parkrun is a FREE weekly 5km event for runners of all standards, which takes place every Saturday at 9.30am in Strathclyde Country Park.

It is not a race against other runners, but a 5k timed run and it can really be whatever you want it to be, whether that’s for fun or as part of a training plan.

It offers an opportunity for all the local community, male or female, young or old, to come together on a regular basis to enjoy this beautiful park and get physically active into the bargain. We want to encourage people to jog or run together irrespective of their ability – this event is truly open to all and best of all it really is FREE!

Taking part is easy – just register in advance by 6pm on the Friday before your first ever parkrun here. The great thing is that you only ever need to do this once! Then just set your alarm for Saturday morning and get yourself there!

After the run, if you don’t have to get off straight away, there will be the chance to socialise with everyone at the Waterfront Café (upstairs in the watersports centre) to maybe swap stories about your run that day, chat to other runners over a cup of tea or coffee and just be an important part of this new running community.

So whether you are a complete novice looking to get yourself started on your own “running journey” or a seasoned athlete wanting to use this as a part of your training schedule, you’re welcome to come along and join us.

So, I might pop down…  Joining in without pressure.  I like that.

After all, there is cake!

Change The World God, Faith & Church Sermons worship

Courageous Community

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a sermon for lots of reasons, mostly not being around much over the summer but today I preached at Lanark Greyfriars on the theme of ‘Courage for Community’ from today’s lectionary reading from Esther.

As usual, your thoughts, comments and suggestions (constructive please).

Change The World Genius Masters Society

Clay Shirky talks about generosity in online communities