Lost in Wonder, a micro Sabbath in the midst of the Edinburgh Fringe

24 August 2023

What does creative, holistic, loving evangelism look like in the context of the Edinburgh Fringe? From the 14 to the 19 of August, a team from across the Connexion offered a place for people to take a step back from the busy streets of the world-famous celebration of arts and culture, to rest and reflect.

“Beware of the couch!” jokes a passerby.

Every morning, rain and shine, the Lost in Wonder team rolled their sofa to the Royal Mile in the centre of Edinburgh and then, every afternoon, they rolled it to Nicolson Square, outside the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church (CEMC).

Two years ago, Holly Adams, Evangelism and Contemporary Culture Officer for the Methodist Church, reached out to CEMC and the local circuit to see if they would be interested in planning mission outreach during the annual Edinburgh Fringe. Revd James Patron Bell, minister of CEMC, said, “Weare in the middle of Edinburgh, we are in the middle of the thousands of people who turn up here. The festival is on our doorstep, it's too big to ignore but too big for us, as a church, to deal with.”

Holly’s idea to work in partnership with people from around the Connexion was welcomed. Even though they did not know what they were going to do, Holly reached out to other creative people to join the team. Jon, a minister and artist living in Wales, took part because, “I like the idea of taking church outside of the building. This is the ultimate expression of that, taking the very best of what it is to be Methodist, the social action, being creative and sharing what we have with others.” 

The creative team and members of CEMC came together in August 2022 to explore what could be done. They walked around Edinburgh and talked to people, performers and local people to understand what kind of mission and outreach might work. They discovered people needed a place to stop and pause. So, for the past year, they brainstormed and explored ideas on what form it would take – James being the voice of reason, often asking the team, “Is it doable in August in Edinburgh?”

Lost in Wonder offers spaces for rest and reflection, creating a deep level of connection with others through a micro Sabbath.  A Sabbath is a day of rest, so the sofa is a mini rest moment from the bustling of the Fringe. The first space is the sofa where people are invited to sit down and simply share their stories. “At the beginning of the week, I felt completely out of my comfort zone but, within a few minutes, the first person came and sat on the sofa. We asked them a simple question to engage and help them to reflect,” remembers Anne from Plymouth.

Some mornings, people would even queue to have a chat with the team. “Some people just want to talk about their experience of the Fringe and what they have seen. Other people open up in a different way, and, sometimes, we end up talking about faith and spirituality,” adds Holly. The empty seat on the sofa is thought of as the place where Jesus would sit down. “Our understanding of evangelism on the sofa is about seeing God in the eyes of the person sitting next to us and in their story. We hope that they will also see something of God in us.”

Over the week, about 200 people stopped and sat on the sofa. During the talks Jon paints, listens and is inspired by the discussion as it unfolds. He offers his painting to the people before they leave the sofa. Getting off the sofa, people often feel invigorated, “It is great to have a moment of peace and quiet”, said a visitor from East Sussex. “I came yesterday and brought friends today. It would be great if they could bring the sofa to Brighton too!”

The other space is the Fringe officially registered show that occurs in Nicolson Square every afternoon. It is more of a drop-in session with different spaces to rest and reflect. There is a gazebo where people can sit and enjoy a relaxing video, a blackboard where people can participate and write their thoughts, a sofa to have a chat and a display of Jon’s paintings that people can take in exchange for words shared.

The team at the venue is eager to engage and exchange with everyone. Kate, a member of CEMC, joined the group in Nicolson Square several times during the week, “I explained to people what was happening and encouraged them to have a look. They often didn’t realise it was a free show!”

To end, members of the team took part in Sunday worship. The people who had been chatted with during the week were remembered and included in the prayers.

This first Methodist presence at the Fringe was a success, creating a space for meaningful conversation and the extended team will gladly come back in August 2024 to bring a rest and reflection to the bustle of the Fringe.

“If the team comes back, I want to be here with them,” adds Anne. “One of the most amazing experiences of my life,” agrees Jon.