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Café Retro, Copenhagen
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Cafe RetroCafe Church is one of many dynamic new expressions of church that has emerged over the last ten years or so. They take different forms, with differing visions and available resources. In this article, Freddy Hedley introduces Rie, who tells the story of Cafe Retro, an exciting community project in Copenhagen that is having a real impact. 

Rie’s Story

Rie (pictured, right) is one of the lay leaders of a new and growing Café community in Copenhagen, called Café Retro which has been working in a new way to meet and impact the lives of lots of not-yet-Christians. She is the vision carrier of a team of people that not only run the café, but also are part of several teams that come together to form a community of faith that is completely authentic both to Jesus, and to the young adult Danish city culture. This project has come out of the Lutheran Church – the state church in Denmark and much of Central Europe – and was founded on the belief that the best way to reach out to not-yet-Christians was to love them and engage with their culture, rather than expecting them to enter into a church culture that is totally alien and often viewed as judgemental to them. With this belief firmly in place it was not too big a leap to understand where the young adults would congregate, as the team of people stepping out into this mission enterprise were all young adults themselves. Their vision was to see the Gospel break indigenously into the strong and vibrant young adult café culture in Copenhagen, of which Rie and her friends were also all a part.

They set about making all the preparations that would be needed, including gathering the finances together to get started; building the mission team; hiring buildings; sharing vision and outlining their values. God was with them and provided for all their needs in this, and the result was the creative and pioneering Café Retro, which began 1st January 2005.

Café Retro’s Values

Rie and the rest of the Café Retro leadership team have focussed in on three principles that are their key values…

1. Creativity and Art: Their particular vision of God that they see expressed through their community is a creative God who releases creativity both through the world in creation, and through people and their artistic and imaginative natures. As a sign of this they seek to encourage as many opportunities to explore and release people’s creativity as they can, be that through giving opportunities to create/show art, take part in debates, creative meditation or through music.
2. Questions of Life: Café Retro is clear that one of its key purposes is to give people the opportunity to ask important questions about life, the universe and everything. They hold regular debate nights that explore philosophy and social, religious and moral issues. This is done with everyone – Christian or not – having an equal say, with no-one’s opinion considered less important. The focus is not necessarily to come to the answer, but to show that Christianity gives permission and the space to ask the questions. Then the community can begin to go on a faith journey together.
3. Loving Your Neighbour: The Café Retro team all live and communicate in accordance with this central command of Jesus. They want their lives to be a witness to the people who come into the café, but also they just want to live as Jesus called them to live. The finances of the café, as well as the way Café Retro spends its time are all based around seeking to bless their neighbours – both home and abroad.

Living by Faith

Café Retro is primarily, day to day, a café (fairly obvious, really!), and as such is open all day to the public, and is a place where people can come to buy food and drink and share fellowship (be that Christian or not). However, despite the money coming in they are a non-profit organisation, and any profits that are made are given to mission projects that the team are linked with in India. This forms one of the clearest and most open to the public ways to demonstrate what Loving Your Neighbour can look like on a global scale.

In terms of how it is funded, this comes mostly from the sacrificial giving of people associated with the mission project, or members of the community that have been blessed by it ands want to see it continue. The local church are the only other source of giving to keep Café Retro project up and running. This does not necessarily guarantee that each month’s costs will be met, and so they have learned that living by faith is at the core of their existence.

An example of just how true this last observation is can be seen from the core team of leaders. They are all volunteers, giving both their time and money sacrificially into the project. There are paid staff at the café, but the leaders are all living by faith as they follow Jesus on this exciting journey.

Not all Christians?!

Perhaps the most pioneering feature of this mission project is that despite being a contemporary missionary movement in the community, there is not the assumption that this means that all the people who make it happen have to be Christians! Across all the people involved around 50% are not-yet-Christians, forming parts of all of the teams, except the central leadership team.

Altogether there are 6 teams centred around a leadership team that keep Café Retro’s various aspects going, and each team is made up of a mixture of those that know Jesus, and those that don’t yet claim to. This has had a profound effect, which is to open up the ownership of the project to the whole community. The café becomes a centre for all sorts of people to explore faith and life together, and they can all see that they are really equally valued. This is a genuinely indigenous move of God! How many of us would dare start a mission project where half the workers were not yet Christians? And yet this is proving to have a successful impact in Copenhagen!

All the workers are lay people, though some do have some degree of theological training. Rie is very much the vision holder, and her enthusiasm is clear and contagious to those around her. Two people have been employed to lead the café, but they are the only two employed workers. Below you can see a diagram of the basic structure of the teams that run Café Retro, together with how many people form each team.

There is a culture of low control, but high accountability in the relationship between Café Retro and the Lutheran State Church. The institution does not fund the project, nor does it tell them what to do (hence them having the freedom to be so indigenous), but the national church are seen by the leadership and the community as being the spiritual guides for the Café Retro, and are responsible for holding the leaders accountable for what they are doing – ensuring that the focus is always on listening to the Holy Spirit for guidance and letting God lead the way.

Putting Values into Practice

Day to day they run as any café would. However, every week and month there is also a variety of activities that are focussed on exploring the core values mentioned earlier as a community. There is a weekly live music/DJ night; there are monthly debate nights; meditations are held regularly in a Quiet Room; and there are also many other one-off events that seek to explore Christian spirituality and give people in the community the chance to express their creative sides and build relationships in a “secular” and yet still “Christian” atmosphere. In addition to this they also run a Christian debate and prayer group from the café called Retrospektiv. Here they discuss key issues of faith, pray together and for the community, have events (such as a recent visit from a Gospel choir that was extremely popular for Christians and not-yet-Christians alike!) and dramas. This is the most overtly “religious” expression of the cafe, but is still a place that is formed integrally around young adult culture and is growing.

What have they learned?

As Rie considers the last 18 months of preparation and practice of Café Retro she highlights three things that she and her team have learned, that have driven how they see God, and what they feel church should be focussing on:

1. Young people hate exposure to evangelism, so it is vital that we choose to meet them in their lives instead… loving them not because we have to, but because we want to.
2. Integrity is essential… if the Gospel is to have power, then it must be birthed in reality. We must live out what we say. When we do, people see the real difference that Jesus makes, and it is honest and attractive.
3. We are created to be creative, so that is all that Café Retro, with all its events and teams, focuses on!

All in all this is a remarkable and exciting story that shows how the body of Christ really can reach into other cultures and become an indigenous and leading player in the various communities that society is made up of.

To see more pictures and details of this project (in Danish!), visit http://www.cafe-retro.dk

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