A place of belonging
Laurence Wareing visits a week-round café in Farnham, Surrey
To compare a downtown bar in Boston with a church café in the smart Surrey market town of Farnham is perhaps a little leftfield. But fans of the 1980s American sitcom Cheers will recall that the eponymous bar was a place where, as the title song went, ‘everybody knows your name’.
Similarly, long-time volunteer Belinda says that at the Spire Café ‘we seldom have someone coming in where we don’t know their name’ – not bad in a café that expects to receive up to 100 customers a day.
The café ‘is what the church is about in our community’, she says, and to understand the ethos and mission of the Spire Café is in fact to engage with the question of what it means to be a town or city centre church. As the Minister Michael Hopkins says, 30 years ago the imposing pre-Victorian URC church building would have been full on Sunday but closed for the rest of the week. Today, it’s open daily, connecting with Farnham by offering space to community groups and, crucially, through the café that currently fills the church’s nave Monday to Saturday.
Its development has been an evolutionary process. The church had a midweek coffee morning for years, until the sheer enjoyment these gatherings brought to volunteers and customers alike coalesced with a need to fundraise. In 1995, a more ambitious café was established in the refurbished foyer of the church; and then, just before the first pandemic lockdown in 2020, the pews were removed from the nave of the church and the café relocated, with double the number of tables. Happily, these can remain in place for Sunday, facilitating socially distanced worship…
Spire Café was awarded a prize of £2,000 in the United Reformed Church Community Project Awards – an initiative sponsored by Congregational
This is an extract from an article published in the February 2022 edition of Reform