A Recipe for Conversation

Cook @ Chapel is exactly what the name says it is, cooking in a chapel, but the difference is that it doesn’t involve lots of chapel members frantically preparing food for a church event! Instead it is a friendly and fun cookery evening aimed at 12-18 year olds (one of the age groups that our churches traditionally find it hard to reach).

The idea for Cook @ Chapel came from the Milton Keynes Fresh Expressions Vision Day back in November 2008. I was interested in fresh expressions of church when I booked for the vision day but I had no idea what that would mean in practical terms. That was nearly three years ago. I’m amazed at what has happened since and how things continue to develop. I was inspired by the story of the ‘Bread Making Church’ in Liverpool led by Barbara Glasson. This Methodist fresh expression of church was established in a very different geographical and social context to ours, their church being placed in an inner city whilst my church, Hanslope Methodist Chapel, is situated in rural Buckinghamshire. It’s very family friendly but I wondered if we were reaching young people - not only our own young people but all those other young people in the wider community? As a secondary school teacher, I feel quite comfortable with that age range and so was happy to consider something specifically for them.

The concept of cooking whilst sharing the Good News of Jesus, and then eating a fellowship meal together, was a great one, so the idea of Cook@ Chapel began to develop.

When I went to the Church Council for their support, they asked me to test it out first. I linked up with a community food worker and we did a six-week trial before I applied for a grant. We drew up different menus and asked if we could do it for those aged 12 (Year 7) to 16.

The Methodist District gave us a fresh expressions grant with our Chapel and local community having to match fund it. The money was found and we got underway. We run Cook@Chapel on Friday evenings for two hours and about 7-9 young people come along, we couldn’t accommodate any more than that. Jamie Oliver has fired a lot of interest in cookery among young people but it is our volunteers who have been the experts. I have had to learn a lot myself; it was quite a challenge because I’m not a particularly confident cook! We generally have one main volunteer and a team of two more who will stand in if necessary. The cookery worker has now moved on but is still involved on a consultancy basis.

Young people don’t do so much cookery at school now so they tell us what they would like to learn and we do it – things like cheese sauce, chilli con carne, tortillas and lemon drizzle cake. They like all the chopping up and making things, doing things from scratch.

Each week we aim to prepare and cook a meal with the young people, usually a simple recipe like pizza or lasagne followed by a pudding, apple crumble and Knickerbocker glory being the favourites. After we’ve made the food we sit down and eat it together; it’s very informal – they really, really like that. They also like to take it in turns to say grace using our grace dice. Conversations around the table and while cooking can be about all sorts of things, a lot depends on who we have got there and also who the volunteers are. Originally I thought I would need young volunteers to link to these young people but I was wrong. The older people have been ideal, they relate to our ‘cooks’ in a different way and sometimes they can talk to them very much more comfortably about faith issues. As well as spiritual wisdom they also bring culinary experience to the evenings!

It’s fairly equal in terms of male/female ratio but there are more boys wanting to join. However they are not allowed to join until Year 7 as we decided that Cook@Chapel should just be for secondary age young people. We don’t advertise at all; most of it is word of mouth recommendation. This has been very successful and Cook@ Chapel has brought together the young and the young at heart.

It has been really rewarding and enjoyable to welcome young people to the church and as Cook@ Chapel has developed more teenagers with a non- church background have started to join us. So far the signs are encouraging and we ask for your prayers for the successful continuation and development of Cook@ Chapel through 2011 and beyond.

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