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A cold gust of air rushed in when the door opened briefly to allow two bundled individuals into the warm café. Smiling, Roy stood from his seat and greeted the newcomers. A few minutes later, when it seemed everyone had arrived and the café hummed with the sound of twenty-odd voices, Roy removed his scarf and went to the front of the room to welcome his guests.
He and his family had served in Dublin, Ireland, since 2003, and while ministry in a post-Christian culture was challenging, they had been remarkably creative when it came to reaching out to the Irish in ways they could understand and accept.
How can the gospel be “good news” in a context where Christianity has been bad news? Roy and his wife Holly wondered.
The unique challenges in bringing the gospel to a post-Christian culture is that, as Roy explains it, “We don’t step into a Buddhist context where Christianity is a novelty. We step into a post-Christian context where they think they know what Christianity is all about, and so they’re almost inoculated against Christianity because of their historical experience.”
How do we engage people suspicious of anything religious? They asked as they ascertained how hard the spiritual soil of Ireland was and how wounded the Irish were against anything that hinted of religion.
How can we bless our city?
Roy and Holly knew of a public discussion forum that began in the United States—the Socrates Café, a space designed for people of varying backgrounds and views to gather and engage in philosophical and thoughtful discussions, a space where each person’s opinion mattered, and people were free to ask questions and share their thoughts on various topics.
Roy took a sip of tea as he surveyed the group before him. Nearly every table in the café was occupied tonight, and the excited chatter that filled the room brought a smile to his face. Though loud, their voices didn’t quite mask the pattering sound of the freezing rain that had begun to smack against the window glass, blurring the yellow streetlights beyond.
“An Irish friend and I began Socrates Café Dublin in 2011 with six people in the basement of a café in Dublin city center,” Roy shares. “We adopted the tagline, Socrates Café – a space where ideas and dialogue can flourish.”
“We wish to generate a conversational culture where disagreement is not seen as a threat, and people who disagree with us are not seen as enemies,” he continues. “The kind of conversation in which speaking openly and honestly from our point of view can be met with sincere questions and critique from which mutual learning is the fruit. This is one of our gifts to our city in Jesus’ name.”
Roy cleared his throat and set down his tea. Slowly, the hum of voices grew quiet as the group waited to hear what this evening’s discussion would be about. “Tonight,” Roy began, “we are going to discuss the question, ‘Are morals relative or absolute?’” People began to smile and murmur, ready to share their opinions on this controversial topic.
Before he even indicated to do so, they rose from their seats and shifted tables so that they were arranged in groups of five to seven, each group having a predetermined facilitator who would direct and oversee the conversation.
“Since Covid, we have been meeting virtually,” Roy explains. Surprisingly, though, he goes on, people have expressed a degree of affinity for virtual gatherings since it is convenient for them to meet from their own homes after a day’s work. Additionally, with the digital platform of recent months, he shares, there has been more participation from other countries in Europe and the United States, which is an exciting way to see these discussions on important life topics extending to other least-reached groups around the world.
The discussions transpired for a while, at times lively and animated, filling the café with volume, and at others muted and thoughtful, allowing Roy to hear the beat of rain soften as the drops became snowflakes which brushed the glass silently and dusted the street with a faint, white coating.
At the appointed time, the groups reconvened for a wrap-up session. Roy opened the floor to allow each group to share highlights of their discussion. After everyone had a chance to share, Roy officially closed the time with an invitation for people to stick around to chat as long as they liked…or, as long as the café was open.
The last to leave a while later, Roy and Holly stepped out onto the cobblestone streets, which looked like clouds, the soft white snow covering every contour. The flakes had also blanketed the vine-covered bricks, spires, and windowsills of the old buildings that lined the curved streets. Soft lamplight gleamed from the streetlights above them and the windows around them as they began the quiet walk home and discussed the evening’s gathering.
How can we bless our city?
“One way is to show up bearing good gifts,” Roy says. “Gifts that will be good not just for the religious, but for the whole neighborhood, the whole city.”
Roy and Holly have ministered to the people of Ireland for almost 20 years and are passionate about seeing these lost and wounded find comfort, safety, love, and life in Jesus Christ.
Roy and Holly use Meetup.com to promote their events, which is a great tool for getting the word out about their group. Consider starting a discussion group in your community!