Wine, cheese… and God
There are ways and ways to reach out to our local areas, but one of the strategies chosen by Christ Church Inner West is to invite its community in to talk about the big issues in society.
Called “Wine, cheese and a conversation about [the issue] and God”, the once-a-term events have been running for about two years and cover everything from cancer to fake news, and science to same-sex marriage.
“There are topics that are important in our society and culture that are good to talk about,” explains the rector of Christ Church Inner West, the Rev Andrew Katay. “We surveyed the congregation in particular, asking, ‘What do you think would be interesting topics that we could put on that people might come to?’
“The events are outreach in the sense that each topic is something to which we seek to bring the gospel to bear. It’s not straight Two Ways To Live, and it’s not meant to be Two Ways To Live. We recognise that we need different entry points to the gospel and this is one of our range of entry points.”
He says that, at each night, attendees are placed at a table of five or six with wine, cheese and nibbles, and water. There is table discussion, presentations from speakers, and plenty of interaction between the audience and the panel.
The speakers are Christians chosen for their experience in the topic under discussion. For example, in March the conversation about euthanasia had Dr Megan Best on the panel, and last month’s conversation about extremism heard from Louisa Hope (who survived the Lindt Café siege) and Dr Richard Schumack from the Centre for Public Christianity, who is author of The Wisdom of Islam and the Foolishness of Christianity.
“The whole thing is a conversation,” Mr Katay says. “When I was [chaplain] at Sydney Uni, we used to do these thing with students all the time… much better communication takes place if you let people ask questions and make statements, and don’t just have the Christian voice making the points. It shows everyone in the group that we’re not afraid of question or debate; we’re not scared of conversation. If we have the truth then we don’t need to be afraid about these things.
“The skill is in being able to take the question and find a way to directly answer it and, at the same time, take it deeper into gospel principles or issues.”
Word of Mouth
Each event is advertised by word of mouth from church members and by a letterbox drop throughout the parish. Mr Katay says that because of these letterbox drops, everyone in the parish area – which comprises Ashfield, Haberfield and Five Dock – knows the church.
“It’s part of our overall strategy to do letterbox drops 10-12 times a year,” he says. “What it does is very, very effectively communicate two things: it communicates the actual event and that’s useful, but it also communicates what kind of church we are. We’re a church that’s interested in engaging with contemporary issues, bringing experts in the field into play and we’re not closed but open to conversations.”
In the week after each conversation night Christ Church launches an inquirers group for those who want to learn more about Christianity. The responses for visitors vary. Some are ready to take a step straight into Christianity Explained, while others might go to a range of events, attend church for a while, and then join a course.
For Mr Katay, the point is to reach people in the community at whatever stage they are at, and “move them, where we can, even one tenth of one step closer to Jesus. Evoking spiritual curiosity is our outreach goal, and then leading people to Christ”.