From Vegetables to Alpha

Another story about the 'secret sauce' of building relationships

Howard Webb

22 November 2016

Love Your Neighbour told a story from Riccarton Community Church (RCC) a year ago, and we said then that their ‘secret sauce’ was focusing on relationships. Here is another story told to me by volunteer Nicki Aitken that bears it out!

Church member Jonny Parry-Jennings has a strong desire to make connections in the community and encourages community ownership of projects. He had the vision of starting a community Vegetable Cooperative out of the church building.

Here’s the big idea. The community is invited to pre-order fruit and vegetables direct from the market, saving about half of what they would spend at the supermarket. A week’s supply of seasonal produce works out at around $14.

During the course of the morning Jonny goes to the market early, picks up the produce and then he and his team of guys from the community bag them up for people to collect from the church hall, which serves as the distribution hub. Collection time is between 9:30 – 12:00 on Wednesday mornings and the church is very intentional about making the venue a warm, friendly, hospitable place where conversations can happen.

Nicki tells me that a group of ladies who met at the Co-op now have a regular Friday lunch date. “We are seeing more and more people come to pick up their veges and then choosing to hang with us and their friends for a while,” says Nicki. “We promote this by providing soup, bread and coffee and we have church folk who go along to the co-op just to hang with the community.” I comment to Nicki that this understanding of how one does mission must be embedded in their church culture, and she agrees!

RCC has been doing Alpha for a number of years, but recognised that they have always missed those folk who can’t get out at night because of family or other commitments.

As they contemplated running a daytime Alpha they immediately thought of their Craft Group (which also meets on Wednesday mornings) and the Vege Co-op people as prime invitees. They chose Wednesday afternoon as a good time to run the Alpha course.

“We ended up with an all-ladies Alpha group – 4 church people, 5 from the Vege Co-op and 1 from the Craft Group,” relates Nicki. Several have made faith commitments with others still on the journey.

What is interesting is that the ladies who came to Alpha from the Co-op were the ones already most engaged in making the Co-op a community space – they were the ones who had been making coffee and soup!

But it didn’t end there. “These ladies formed a real bond and didn’t want it to end,” explains Nicki. “They are also spiritually hungry. We have ended up having a regular Bible study using a book on the parables of Jesus.”

Nicki is also toying with the idea of moving the Craft Group into the space where the Veggie Co-op happens to see if there might be some crossover interest.

“Our church is changing its face as more and more locals are coming in via portals we have created such as our street party and Vege Co-op,” says Nicki. “I am getting to encourage and walk alongside a number of women who are coming to faith and becoming engaged and involved in what we do as a church.”

I tell her most churches have no idea how to make this true for them – what is their secret?

“It’s important we don’t minimise the impact of prayer in this, because we have been praying about our effectiveness in our community for a very long time,” says Nicki. “But if there’s a secret it’s the individuals who take time to connect and make friends and who are also thinking about who else they should be connected to. We keep praying for more people to be engaged connectors!”