It was his first ever birthday party.
The young man, who is in his late 20s, had never been given a birthday party until the team at Blend, a new Nazarene coffee shop, became his family.
He had also never had a job. The young man dropped out of university to be the full-time caregiver for his terminally ill parents until they each passed away within the space of a year.
Despite his struggles with social anxiety and depression, the young man joined the staff at Blend.
“We just love him, he’s part of the family,” said Derrick Thames, who helped open the coffee shop last fall. “He struggles with crowds in general, but six months in he’s so much more confident. He has a beautiful sense of humor. He’s trying to connect with customers…. He’s got a whole new family who joined him at his father’s funeral. He’s joining the church family with the little faith he still has.”
The coffee shop is one of three across Scotland where Nazarenes are creating space to love people and explore what it means to have faith in God.
Nazarene-led coffee shop launches church plant
In October 2018, Blend launched in downtown Dundee, Scotland’s fourth largest city, named Scotland’s Best Place to Live in 2019 by the Sunday Times. It is also home to the brand new Victoria and Albert Museum of Design, the only V&A museum outside of London.
The museum’s opening in September spurred billions of pounds of investment in the area and a rapid revitalization.
“Dundee is on the rise,” Thames said. “We just got in by God’s grace.”
Thames was able to obtain a historic storefront in the city center, on Reform Street, between the largest printing firm in Europe and the McManus Art Gallery. The prime location allows staff to engage in ongoing conversations with regular customers.
Relationships with customers, and among the team, is one of Blend’s driving values, Thames said. The baristas are encouraged to step from behind the bar and spend time with customers over coffee, getting to know them and listening — another core value — to their stories.
“Most cafes in the city are small and cramped— especially the ones that serve good coffee and food. It is hard to find a place that you feel comfortable staying for a while without feeling like you are just taking up space,” said Tori Stone, who is on the church planting team, and works in Blend several days a week. “We have the space that welcomes people to stay for awhile. Students often come in and study for hours at a time. Business people come in and have meetings there. We have had different people and organisations use the space for events. I have even seen a few people taking naps on our sofas. We want to create an environment that people feel comfortable staying in as long as they need to, and I think we are doing that, so far.”
Coffee with a mission
Thames was pastoring a Church of the Nazarene in Erskine when he began dreaming of a creative solution to a local problem: there were no Nazarene churches north of the city of Perth, and there had not been a successful church plant in Scotland in the past 20 years.
During their time as baristas in college at Point Loma Nazarene University, Thames and his wife, Dayna, developed a “deep sense” that coffee shops are an ideal place to connect with people who yearn for community but probably would not visit a church.
“One of the things we want to do in planting a new church [is to] reach new people — people who have never heard the gospel, and people who have nothing to do with church,” Thames said.
Years later, after being part of a Nazarene church-planting team in Kosova and serving several churches in Scotland, Derrick and Dayna still believed a coffee shop could open doors to loving unchurched people and drawing them into a transformative faith community.
In 2012, Thames (second from right) and three friends – (from left) Sundeep Salins, Gregor Banks and Alan Baird – pooled their funds to rent space in Perth. Salins quit his job as a council architect to help open and manage the first Blend coffee shop. In 2016, the second Blend location opened in Paisley, a neighborhood of Glasgow.
A ‘Blend’ of models
Each Blend location operates on a slightly different model of ministry, but all are connected to the Nazarene church in Scotland and operate on the same five values: Blessing people; Listening to God and people as a critical ingredient for relationships; Eating together as a reflection of the table that Christ invites everyone to join as part of the Kingdom; Nurturing a love for God and others; Daring to step out in faith, out of one’s comfort zone.
When the Dundee location opened, Thames and two other bivocational church planters – Tori Stone and Chris Franklin – began meeting with interested people in the Thames’ home on Sunday afternoons. Over the past six months, the small house church has expanded to nearly 20 regularly participating adults and about half as many children. The group quickly outgrew the space. In April they moved to Blend to continue holding simple Sunday gatherings, followed by a meal.
One young man who joined the staff as a barista had no experience of the church and held a “generic” view of Christians. He participated in the team barbecues and dinners, as well as observed the ethos of Blend each day at work.
“He just said to us, ‘Every idea I had of Christianity, you guys don’t live into any of that,’” Thames said. “He said things like, ‘I want a faith for myself.’ I said, ‘Let’s keep this conversation going.’”
‘Church should be more simple’
The worship gatherings at the Thames’ home are simple times of Bible teaching, prayer, worship and communion, ending with a meal together.
“We’re convinced church has just gotten too complicated. We just really believe the church should be much more simple — not simplistic, but simple,” Thames said. “The district has been very supportive, both in sending and blessing and encouraging us. The church in Perth has been extremely supportive, coming up and doing prayer walks in the city and joining us in the shop.”
The church plant in Dundee is the second of two new works in Scotland in 2018, the first one being The Charter in Tollcross, Glasgow, an effort by Parkhead Church of the Nazarene. (Read how it started: https://tinyurl.com/y59h7g6l)
“The Dundee plant is very exciting, as it’s a three-way partnership between Blend coffee shops, Perth Trinity Nazarene church and the British Isles North District,” said Jim Ritchie, the district superintendent. “This model is one we will use again in our desire to plant regularly on our district, as it is very replicable. Working together in this way is central to our district strategy. It is self-sustainable, entrepreneurial and innovative. [I] see it not only as a vibrant part of the district’s life now, but a sign of hope for our future.”
This article was previously published in the May 2019 edition of Where Worlds Meet.