Fraser and Cheriel from our evening congregation came up with a brilliant idea. Cheriel tells us all about it:
"About a month ago my husband and I ran a free pop-up cafe in the centre of Reading to give people a public forum in which to discuss the result of the EU referendum. It was the weekend after the referendum result, and we had planned it for a week and put it on. We had been surprised and taken aback by the Brexit vote, and were concerned by a few things in the immediate aftermath:
1. Many Remain voters were angry and upset, and some voices from the Leave side were protesting that they felt maligned and misrepresented in the media 2. Everyone seemed to be talking about the referendum with their family and friends, but there didn't seem to be any spaces for constructive public discussion (and Facebook tends not to be the most constructive of spaces) 3. Despite the almost 50/50 split of the vote, the vast majority of our friends and family seemed to have voted the same way as us.
Put together, this seemed to suggest that the split of the vote was not only driven by individual opinion, but also by a vast difference in perception, both of what would be best for the nation and the voters on the other side, and by social (and quite possibly economic) differences.
This has been said a great deal since, but the referendum highlighted some very profound divides in our country. We wanted to do something that would strengthen civil society in our local community and enable people to put a human face to the opinions and perceptions of the other side of the vote. The wisdom of the Bible tells us that 'a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger' (Proverbs 15:1) and that we should 'put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace' (Ephesians 6:15). We wanted to bring something of peace and hope at a time when it would have been easy to respond in inflammatory ways.
We spent the week planning and praying for good weather, begged and borrowed tables and camping chairs from Reading Family Church and our friends, recruited other members of the church to help man the stall, and filled out the necessary paperwork from the council. On the Saturday, we set our gazebo, table and signs up on Broad Street in the morning and were immediately in business. Lots of people stopped because they were intrigued by the offer of free cake and homemade lemonade, and a good many stayed to chat. While rain did put a damper on things for a little while, we estimate that by the end of the day we had spoken to over 120 people and families.
We spoke to people on both sides of the vote, and tried to encourage conversation. Many Remain voters spoke about a sense of devastation and outrage, while Leave voters spoke about optimism and feeling unfairly judged. On both sides there was apprehension about political uncertainty ('The UK has no government'). We spoke to immigrants from Europe who felt disappointed, unwelcome and angry. Wherever possible, we tried to encourage the people we spoke with to consider what the vote said about society and local communities in the UK, and what we could most productively do as individuals and as a community moving forward. One of our friends, a Remain voter, had a long conversation with a couple who had voted Leave about the thought processes and motives that had led them to vote the way they did. They came away with the realisation that, though they had chosen opposite sides of the vote, they had very similar interests at heart.
While not all conversations resulted in that degree of convergence, we found ourselves challenged and humbled by differences of opinion in the people we met. The conversations we had helped us to consider more deeply the importance of speaking our perception of truth lovingly in public debate. We hope and believe (at least, from the feedback of others) that many people came away from the pop-up cafe feeling a little more encouraged, a little more understood, and a little more willing to seek a constructive, diverse conversation. We all find it hard to be truly neutral about issues that affect us deeply, but with a little loving work we could perhaps create a society where we can deal with difference in ways that strengthen our communities."
Reaching our town is not all about 'the church' centralising and doing outreach, it is about Christians who are the church taking the initiative and bringing the gospel through their own unique way. The bible is clear, 'Blessed are the peacemakers' and that's what Fraser and Cheriel and friends were doing that day being peacemakers.