workshop description: create-a-cafe

Last week we ran the first of a series of “Hobart 2020 Cafe Forum” gatherings.  Designed to provide opportunity for people to explore the themes of the report “How then shall we live?” for the Uniting Church in Hobart, we tried to take a creative approach to this gathering.

The key themes of the report that formed the basis for this gathering are collaboration, creativity, innovation, imagination and community.

This post records the shape of the event, some of the thinking behind it, and a simple recording of what happened. If it’s an idea that has use for you, please feel free to run your own create-a-cafe gathering….either along similar lines to what happened in Hobart, or better still, shaped to fit your own context.

Hit the link to read all the details:

Participants were invited to the Cafe Forum with material using key phrases such as:

  • coffee-cake-conversation
  • unpacking the themes of ‘how then shall we live?’
  • dream our way into the future together
  • no planning, no agenda, no minutes, no office bearers, no rules
  • creative and imaginative space
  • not a ‘normal church meeting’
  • meeting others
  • a little fun

When participants arrived at the venue, the room was bare, just a circle of chairs in the middle of the floor. No tables. No food. No sign of the ‘Cafe’ promised in the name ‘cafe forum’. No smell of brewing coffee or cakes ready to be eaten.  It was intentionally stark, and confronting.

As people came in, the “double takes” were obvious. This was unexpected. Unwelcoming. Not the warm and inviting cafe shaped room that had been promised.  There was a degree of uncertainty as the room filled (and yet…..not one person asked me “what’s going on? I thought we were supposed to be doing a cafe?”).

About five minutes after the appointed time, we welcomed everybody, and then began with an invitation to imagine:

Look around you. See the space.  See what is in this room….and what isn’t.

Close your eyes. Imagine this space transformed into a busy, energetic cafe.

What can you see? How is the room set? How are tables decorated? Who is there? What are they talking about? What are the smells? What are the tastes? What sounds can you hear?

As you keep your eyes closed – speak out loud some of the things you are imagining. Tell each other what you hear, see, taste, smell. Tell each other about this place transformed.

Once imagination had taken shape, stories had been told and images described, we informed the group that:

Our task tonight is to create what we just imagined. The setting, the sounds, the conversations, the smells and tastes, the buzz….and yes even the food.

There are tables and chairs here.

There are boxes of table setting and decoration resources here.

There is a kitchen here with hot ovens and all the raw ingredients need to brew coffee and to cook and decorate cake.

In this room there are an amazing collection of skills, and a blank canvas.

Over the next 90 minutes let us set out to create what we just imagined, remembering that the themes we are exploring tonight including creativity, collaboration, experimentation – all the themes of the “How then shall we live?” report.

We provided a few ground rules, such as ‘gender balance in all tasks’ to ensure that we didn’t fall into the typical church situation of women in the kitchen while the men moved chairs.

We provided a heap of decorative/setting resources such as:

  • table cloths & strips of brightly coloured fabric
  • candles
  • pens, paper, scissors

People found other resources in the church hall and used them creatively:

  • contents of a toy cupboard were transformed into a children’s play area
  • piano moved into the hall, and someone began playing tunes as background music
  • later the PA system turned out and hooked up to another music source
  • a game of basketball began randomly – using a small ball, and cardboard box (not sure what that has to do with a cafe but I liked the creativity!)

In the kitchen we had the ovens hot and ready, and provide a set of resources to enable coffee and cake to be cooked quickly and shared:

  • coffee brewing machine & ground coffee beans
  • packet cake mixes including cup cakes (chocolate and gluten free vanilla), muffin mix
  • pavlova base along with fruit and cream
  • simple cake decorating options
  • muffin and cup-cake baking pans
  • hand-held mixmaster & mixing bowls

The group created a wonderful cafe, filled with light, energy, humour and creativity. A marine theme emerged, with tables and walls decorated with fish, starfish and seashells, tables of different sizes and shapes were arranged, a children’s play area emerged. Chocolate cup cakes, vanilla iced cake, muffins and pavlova appeared from the busy and happy kitchen as the smell of brewing coffee filled the room.  The buzz of conversation got louder and louder, punctuated with laughter and small groups of people talking as they worked alongside one another, introducing themselves and telling their stories as they went.

At one stage a small group decided to head out into the night, to comb the streets of the city and see who they could find who might like to join the cafe, and eat and drink with us.  Fearful of losing control of my agenda for the event and the evening I asked them not to go….but I’ll always wonder what might have occurred if they had gone out with an open invitation.

As the preparations concluded we sat in the cafe of our own making and shared coffe, cake and conversation…just as the invitation had promised.

As conversation continued, we threw a series of questions into the mix – allowing each small table group to share around the conversation topic as they wished:

  • what happened here tonight? how did you feel when you walked in? when you heard what this evening entailed?
  • what did you see or experience in terms of leadership as the night unfolded? what styles of leadership emerged?
  • did we create what we imagined?
  • what did you think when you heard about the plan to go out and invite outsiders into ‘our space’? what might have happened if that had occurred?
  • how is what happened here tonight similar to what happens when your faith community gathers? how is it different?
  • how was the gospel present or proclaimed in this gathering tonight?

The end result was a fantastic experience as 29 people from across the city (and from at least seven different congregations) gathered, imagined, collaborated, created and shared.  Community was built. Stories encountered Lessons learned.  Fun had.

We’ll do it again in a month or so. It won’t look exactly like this first event, but it will once again give us the opportunity to explore the themes of the Hobart 2020 report, and to create, collaborate, imagine and share together.

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