Credo Café is a funny place. I never quite know how to explain it. It’s like a café, but not. You get food, but you don’t get to pick what meal you have. And it’s free, so people don’t go hungry. So like a soup kitchen? Not really. In a soup kitchen you give people food, and that’s it. Here you kind of get the feeling that most people around you are here for more than food. At Credo the people that come and eat are mostly not strangers. And it’s not really clear who has come just for lunch, who are volunteers and who are paid staff.
The room has three parts: The Kitchen, the Stage, and the Table.
From 10am the Kitchen is busy cooking a hearty meal that will be served in two hours’ time. Staff, friends and strangers wander in and out during this time. Some linger to help and chat. Some sit quietly around the corner, sipping a hot drink or having a nap.
At around quarter to 12 the meal is just about ready and we gather for prayer and singing on the Stage, which is a raised part of the room, with couches and a coffee table (not an actual stage). We light a candle, someone picks up the guitar. Whoever wants to join may join. By the time 12pm comes around there are many lingering in anticipation of the meal.
Then we gather around the Table. This is a long skinny Table in middle of the long skinny room. We share announcements, say grace, and start serving the meal. We serve food and eat with those we serve. We listen to stories and converse.
I started volunteering at Credo about 6 months ago. And it’s funny. You’d think the staff or the volunteers would own the place. But so many people who come to eat have been coming for 10 years or more, and have well outstayed all the staff. It is more their place than anyone else’s.
As a volunteer it is my role to cook and clean. But as a volunteer it is also my job to listen and learn. To sit with an unlikely stranger and make them a friend. Not to help people more than I let myself be helped, not to judge people more then I let myself be judged. Not to give more than I can receive. As a volunteer I come into a place that is a home for many without a house, a family for many without parents or children. Safety for those living in fear, and a place of worship for those who have been rejected by their church. It is a place of radical belonging and transformative hospitality.
I have learned a lot in the time I have been coming to Credo. I have learned to let myself be Mary sometimes (sitting and listening) and Martha at other times (cooking and serving). Sometimes the greatest thing I can do on a Friday is to sit and listen to someone’s story, even if they talk for ages. One day I sat next to a gentleman who I felt to be particularly odorous; but this simple situation highlighted my own judgment and need for comfort and security. My own flaws are constantly being challenged and brought to the surface at Credo as I meet people who are very different from me. I think it’s harder to know yourself if you hang out with people who are similar to you all the time. I think it’s harder to grow if you don’t step out of your own level of comfort.
Ultimately, Credo is a place where heaven meets earth. It is a taste of what is to come. For many of us, our hope lies in Jesus and the knowledge that one day, he will return and this world will be renewed. This Jesus ate with the poor, the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes. He said ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’. He was a refugee, a homeless man. He felt and smelt and bled and hurt. He came to establish his kingdom, not of this world, but of God. This is the man we follow, this is the kingdom we long for. And Credo is both a creative and practical expression of this hope.