It’s a rare priest who can invite someone to tour a parish precinct with the promise of sizzling garlic prawns, but North Ryde parish priest Fr Stan Kluk CSMA can do just that after opening Flame Café and Gifts earlier this year.
The project shows exactly what a parish can do with two abandoned classrooms, an idea and a whole lot of volunteer muscle.
It was conceived in response to the decline of parish piety stalls and the need for growing interaction between parishioners and the wider community.
“It is way of evangelising without pushing the Catholic thing heavily,” says nurse and long-time parishioner Jenny Hodges, who manages the 28 volunteers who staff the gift shop.
The shop stocks a line of books and devotional items from the Mustard Seed Bookshop, as well as a range of sacramental gifts.
“The amount of people who just come in and appreciate that they can get religious goods or inspiring gifts is amazing,” Jenny said.
“We’re getting people from far and wide.”
The business is owned and operated by the Holy Spirit parish from which it draws its name.
Staffed by a chef, baristas and casual waiters, the café is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, and Fr Stan finds time most mornings to visit and spend time with patrons.
“The main idea was to have a place where we can connect, either to the priest or each other,” said the priest, who is also partial to the cafe’s salt and pepper squid.
While the business is self-supporting, with future profits to be invested back into the parish, “it’s not really about the business but it’s about the community”.
“To me, it’s a place of evangelising,” he said.
There has been a “fantastic response” since Flame Café and Gifts opened, Jenny said.
Fr Stan encouraged the people of the parish to see the venture as their own, and it has paid off, she said.
“The parishioners are so proud.”
As for her recommendation, “you can’t go past the breakfast bruschetta”.