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Spirituality on the menu at caf? conversations

By Paul Titus

On a cool evening in early December, patrons at Ocean Caf? in New Brighton finish their meals and sit back with coffee and dessert to listen to a talk by sports psychologist Gilbert Enoka.

Gilbert discusses how the All Blacks are striving to create a new, positive culture for players. He then answers questions on subjects ranging from how individuals can meet their unrealized potential to spirituality.

The setting is secular, and there are no formal prayers but the event is not just a casual affair. ‘Caf? Conversations’ is an effort by the combined churches of New Brighton to reach out to an audience that does not normally attend church.

When Rev Brian Turner moved from St John’s Methodist Church, Nelson to New Brighton Union Parish he brought the idea of caf? outreach with him. In Nelson Brian and retired Methodist minister Rev Derek McNicol started a similar initiative called ‘Spirited Conversations’, modelled on a group active in Auckland.

Derek says Spirited Conversations began in 2000 at Yaza Caf? in Nelson, which is still its venue. Though it had an initial grant from the Methodist Church’s Futures Group, it is now fully independent and self-supporting. About half the people who attend have church connections.

“Between 50 and 140 people attend each session, depending on the topic,” Derek says. “When Lloyd Geering spoke last year, we had a full house. Other speakers have included academics, politicians, civil servants, scientists, and medical people.

“The bottom line is we talk about things that are not normally on church agendas but should be. We address ethical, moral, and straight religious topics. In my view you can’t divorce religion from life. While we are not affiliated with any church, retired Anglican bishop Peter Sutton says we are the best thing that has ever happened to Nelson.”

Derek says it is important that Spirited Conversations take place outside of church.

“I think we have the wrong model in church. We put someone up to talk for 15 or 20 minutes and they aren’t answerable to anyone. Not many public speakers can get away without being questioned. These days when I lead services, I ask if anyone wants to respond or ask a question after I have given a sermon.”

In Nelson, Spirited Conversations is held the fourth Wednesday of every month from March through November. Each topic is announced through a mailing list, posters, and newspaper notices. A system of koha funds the effort, which requires about $300 a month to operate. A local radio station broadcasts all the talks. When there is demand the transcript of a talk is printed and sold and some talks have been recorded on CD.

New Brighton’s Caf? Conversations take place four or five times a year. It is just one activity that the local Uniting, Anglican and Catholic churches engage in together. They also hold an ecumenical evening service whenever there is a fifth Sunday of the month, and they hold combined events to mark the major Christian festivals.

Speakers Caf? Conversations has hosted include Sister Pauline O’Reagan, who spoke on voting, dean of Christchurch Cathedral Rt Rev Peter Beck , who spoke on why celebrate Christmas, and Robert Consedine, who spoke on the Treaty of Waitangi.

Brian Turner says, while clergy are involved in Caf? Conversations, it is driven by lay people.

“Some of us see it as a way to create a new kind of grouping that is wider than the parish model. It is a means of relating to wider community in a way people are more comfortable with. We don’t have a formal prayer at Caf? Conversations, the spirit of the occasion is compelling enough,” Brian says.

Church-based and secular caf?-style conversations are a growing world-wide phenomenon. Organizations such as Conversation Caf? and Caf? Scientifique help people organize conversation groups in their communities.

Gilbert Enoka on the new All Black culture

In his talk to Caf? Conversations, Gilbert Enoka explained how the All Black organization is creating a culture that helps players achieve peak performances. Its elements are to create leaders, overcome negative cultures, challenge tradition, and expand the potential of individuals.

Gilbert said the type of leaders who are effective for people from Generation Y (those born between 1980 and 1994) are different than those who are effective for earlier generations. Generation Yers have a global outlook because they have grown up with information technology. They expect rewards based on performance and they don’t respond well to hierarchical commands. They do respond to being consulted and having a sense of partnership.

The hidden cultures the All Blacks want to overcome include the culture of silence, the culture of me, and the culture of secrecy. They want players to talk about themselves, commit to something bigger than themselves, and create trust by being open when decisions are made.

The current All Blacks also feel that, while they respect the tradition they are heir to, they should not be trapped by the way the All Blacks did things in the past.

Gilbert said cross cultural research shows most people feel they only realize 20 to 40 percent of their potential. The key to achieving more is to move from a sense of fear to a sense of faith. Many people are hampered by a sense that something negative is going to happen even though they have no evidence it will. It is better to have faith something positive is going to happen, even though there is no evidence for it either.