It all began with the school run. Having dropped my eldest son off at school, the short journey to work would take me past the grounds of another local school. Day after day, I observed weary parents waiting dejectedly on the asphalt as they were battered by the elements. Each time I passed, I was amazed that no one was really talking to one another. That didn’t seem quite right to me.
Over time, I to brew an idea; if anything could bring these parents together, it’s the good old British cuppa. I arranged a meeting with the Headteacher and shared my observations and idea – a team of volunteers from the church and community working with a key worker to give out hot drinks on the playground before or after school, Pop Up Cuppa was born.
The vision for Pop Up Cuppa has always been about relationships – facilitating relationships within the community, building relationships between the church and community and developing great relationships between the schools and the church.
With the simplicity and the efficacy of the initiative, we were armed with little more than a couple of flasks of hot water, a bumper pack of teabags and packets of biscuits, this small team of volunteers are being used powerfully by God to transform their community, simply by engaging and putting relationships first.
I recall one of the parents who have begun to engage with other church activities and gain the confidence to take on leadership roles. The story of one parent who, through the relationship that began over a cuppa, has felt empowered to return to education.
The team began with one local primary school, once a month. 18 months on, we now pop up in three schools once every three weeks or so. The schools have been enthusiastic about the impact of Pop Up Cuppa, with one noting how there has been no fighting between parents on the playground since the project began; fighting among parents had previously been a particular challenge to the school. Another of the schools have even approached us for the church’s help with pastoral support for some of the parents and pupils.
Inarguably, Pop Up Cuppa is having a hugely positive impact on the community and it strikes me that it is a hugely replicable project; We would love to see parishes across Church of England Birmingham pulling out their urns for the sake of the gospel.
If you are interested in having a go in your parish here are a few tips:
- Always have a key worker from the school with you. It is a joint project and this helps foster buy-in from the school. Make this part of your initial arrangement with the school.
- Recruit volunteers who are great conversationalists. Remember this is primarily about relationships. It is essential to have team members who won’t shy away from a good chat with parents and pupils (although, being able to make a cracking cuppa helps too).
- Seek engagement from the wider community. In which ways can people and business locally support the project. We never has to pay for the drinks or biscuits, these are funded by a local funeral directors, whose manager has caught the vision.
- Be ready for people to engage with other church activities. Don’t sit back and wait for hundreds of families to flood into your Sunday morning service; this is unlikely to be the next logical step for those showing a deeper interest in involvement. What will you be inviting people to next?
- Get your hands on a gazebo if you can – it will really help when the weather is less desirable. Failing that look for somewhere with a bit of shelter.
Andi Thomas is a pioneer minister at St Andrew’s Church in Chelmsley Wood, Birmingham. To find out more click here.