Brunetti’s has to be one of the great success stories of Melbourne’s café terrain. Though the city square venue didn’t appear until 2005, its Carlton predecessor dates back to 1974. Today you can get your Brunetti fix in several Melbourne locations including Camberwell, Fitzroy and Myer’s shiny new city store. And if you’re especially adventurous, you can now get a Brunetti Long Black in Dubai or Singapore.
I have to confess, I’m not a Brunetti fan. Sorry. No doubt the coffee is good, and the pastry on those lemon tarts … hmm! But I’m afraid once a café goes global I lose interest. There’s something about the genius of a good café that is essentially local. Clones just don’t work. Well, they can, obviously, but not for me. Honestly, if I want a franchise I’ll go to Starbucks.
Before becoming pastor at Collins Street, I was on a seminary faculty and in a different church almost every Sunday. I didn’t care for it much. I’m not a natural itinerant. And all too often I felt like I was in a church that was trying desperately to be a franchise of someplace else. Perhaps it was Hillsong, Willow Creek or Crossway. Sometimes they pulled it off with flare. More commonly the strain showed. I often wanted to stop them, mid-worship, and ask, ‘Who are you? What are you trying to do?’
As a pastor, I know all too well just how challenging it is to lead a congregation in worship. I want people to leave a Sunday service at Collins Street encouraged, inspired, challenged, and more deeply connected to God and each other. Every week. That’s all. The pressure I place on myself is intense. And I feel it from others too. The instinct is to grasp for whatever works elsewhere. Successful churches breed copies like bunnies breed little bunnies.
But Collins Street is not elsewhere. This church, like every other, is located in a particular place, with a particular history, a unique community with its own story. Like a good café, the genius of the local church is in being embedded in a specific neighbourhood. Surely worship that is authentic and genuinely life-giving will flow out of that local identity.
I often say I don’t want to be Hillsong-on-Collins. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to go there. I don’t want our worship to be a clone of anything. There is a particular tradition and story that we honour and rest upon in our gathering. But what I do long for is an authentic expression of worship that is deeply rooted, inviting, alive and life-affirming.
The American author Diana Butler Bass describes life-giving tradition not as a museum piece to be guarded but as the clay of Christian experience: ‘material that successive generations of believers must craft with faithful care.’ When it comes to shaping worship, there’s something there that rings true. Perhaps I should head over to Brunetti’s, order a coffee and lemon tart, and have a think about it!