Finding Balance

As I sit in my office today, waiting in for a security camera to be delivered, I realise that it is two weeks since the official opening of the School House Café and therefore two weeks since I started writing my October blog for Fresh Hope. And today is the 3rd of November, whoops!

Reflecting on the last few weeks I have been reminded over and over again of the need for balance in so many areas. The list is very long but here are a few examples, between:

  • tasks and relationships
  • humility and effectiveness
  • faith and steward
  • grace and justice.

Allow me to expand. Two weeks ago today I was sitting under a temporary tarpaulin in the hall next to the School House Café, soaking in the atmosphere of launch day. The overall feeling of good will, the early tension, the excitement and laughter but also the palpable and thinly disguised exhaustion. We had been planning and preparing for the launch for months and we had achieved a lot. But despite all the preparation, we still needed a last minute rush. Numbers during the pre-launch opening phase had been encouraging, so we decided that we needed to create an overflow area, 3 days before the official launch. The only place we could do this was in the sports hall next to the Café, but we cannot have this space all of the time. How do we make if feel like an extension to the Café rather than like the gym in an old school? Not only will we need to bring in tables and chairs but we need to create atmosphere.
Believing that this was a task we could do, we went for it. Over the next few days I learned a number of interesting lessons:

  • The cheapest material for creating a false ceiling is tarpaulin, & green is by far the cheapest colour, but putting it up and taking it down is time consuming and involves ladders
  • Guaranteed delivery is not really “guaranteed” at all
  • B&Q opens at 7am in the morning
  • There really is a difference between cool and warm white light
  • Wooden tables delivered to your home rather than to the Café are jolly heavy to move.
  • Coffee sacks go on a one way journey (from producer to consumer)
  • White balloons with Happy Birthday on them are very hard to find in Cheltenham.

The points is that a number of us worked very hard to make the launch successful. Such activity was needed, but it lead to fatigue which can put relationships under pressure. But this was a one off and on that launch day the first sense I got was of the huge goodwill from customers and staff.
Although far from the finished article, nearly everyone sees the potential in the Café and is excited about what it might become. There is a real sense of community, but we hope that it will be an open community, welcoming others in, both from St Paul’s and from the university. The goodwill manifested itself in the form of much noise and laughter, far outweighing the odd tear. All this was a real sign of life, and created the positive atmosphere that all want to experience.
So we got away with pushing through with the task, but probably because relationships were good to start with and because they were restored through the goodwill of others. And where was God in all of this? Well I felt His sense of humour when the Hygiene Inspector arrived in the middle of launch day, and sensed His grace when we were told that we qualified for 5 stars!
Although some of the intensity of the work has diminished, many things still need to be done. I have always believed that leadership is partly about having the humility to do whatever needs to be done in order to complete the tasks, whether that be assembling shelves, resealing the sinks where they leak or paying cash into the bank. At the same time a leaders role is to deploy their team to the best advantage, including deploying themselves. There are certain tasks that each of us are best suited to (remember the picture of the church as a body containing parts, all of which have an important but different role). There is financial analysis to be done and actions to be identified to address some current problems. There is the next stage of the project where we need to find volunteers to help with the cycle part of the Café, as well as helping in the Café itself and to provide the employment experience that we want to offer in the New Year. There are people to meet who might be able to enhance the community component of the Café and also the time and input needed to encourage the next project for Fresh Hope. There are even blogs to write.
It is a big mistake / a slippery slope to believe that any one person can do everything. One wants to at least try to model having a servant heart but one also wants to be effective. The result of seeking a balance between these things is that I still have not made a single cup of coffee in the Café, and October’s blog is being written in November. But of course the earth has not stopped turning as a result.
I have already mentioned in my last blog that a number of people and organisations have generously donated money so that the School House Café project could happen. We are also delighted with the way the Café has taken off so far. Sales volumes are very encouraging, but not surprisingly not at a level yet to allow the Café to break even. So now is the time when ones faith is most stretched and where timely management (stewardship) is also required. Will sales increase to the level needed before the reserve funds run out? This is not just a commercial venture, where decisions can be based on purely financial logic. We are trying to create an asset for the community and to offer employment experience for those out of work and in need. We have to have faith that if we are doing the right thing, then funds will be provided. At the same time we are not immune to the rules of business and we cannot carry on trading if we do not have the funds to do so. A time to hold ones nerve and to actively manage, and for those of us who are so inclined, to pray!
Finally, any new venture will have it’s setbacks and the School House Café is no exception. Only a week after our official launch we had our first break in. Little was stolen except some food, but the fridges were broken into and all the food inside had to be thrown away. Then there was the extra staff we had to employ to clear up the mess and the loss of trade as we had to close the Café until the police had done their work and we had been able to clear up the broken glass and other mess. We have vision for a day when the whole community will see the Café as theirs and so no individual would dream of breaking in and damaging their own Café. But such a time must be some way off. In the mean time we have to look at all the options for enhancing security balancing their effectiveness with the related cost, whether that be financial and/or aesthetic. And we need to think of the staff, who are all to some degree shocked and upset by the break in.
But we won’t be giving up just yet, and our desire to see justice while real is largely second order. I think we have the grace to forgive, but we will be taking measures to avoid this happening again. And while obviously I won’t be setting out what those measures might be here, you will now understand why I am sitting in my office waiting for a security camera to arrive. Which it hasn’t yet, but at least that has allowed me to finish this blog.