Coffee and church
Urban Abbey hosts a coffee house with no strings attached
“Why would you give money away?” The reporter looked astonished as he continued, “Couldn’t you just keep it for your own church?”
He is right, I thought. We could keep it for our own ministry and we do need it; but that is not who we are or at least who we are trying to be. I explained that faith is about generosity. We are part of a tradition of giving of time and energy. We are founded on the principles that all we have is God’s and this is a practice of remembering the money isn’t ours. In fact, we exist in this space because people from around the states of Nebraska and Kansas gave. Because they gave we exist. Because people give in worship here and volunteer here we exist. When you exist out of generosity … you can’t help living in generosity. We ask people to explore that individually as a personal spiritual practice. We ask people to give. So why shouldn’t we give as a community?
Every month we have a community partner and every month they receive 10 percent of our sales at the coffee bar. That’s sales, not profit. We haven’t made a profit and we don’t plan to. We plan to be sustainable but storing up profit … that’s not the goal. Every month our ministry is enriched by supporting and connecting with a great local effort in our city. We have clear expectations for the partnership. Our expectations are that we will co-host some “friend-raising” events. We want our faith community to mix and mingle with our partners’ biggest supporters and advocates. We intend to host events where we can share our missions and invite one another to come on board.
These gatherings help us get to know more people and support other great community efforts. We are pleased to be a part of furthering our partners’ missions as a part of our own. Of course some partnerships are more natural than others; and it is true that once in awhile when a coffee shop guest realizes their latte supports PFLAG or Nebraska AIDS Project they ask for their money back and even refuse the drink.
But for all the twists and turns, partnership has been a clear way for us to live out our faith on this adventure of coffee and church. We are learning all the time. To be honest, I don’t even drink coffee so my learning curve on supervising a coffee shop along with my learning curve about starting a satellite faith community … is often overwhelming. But it has been a great experiment. Whenever I start to think, “what have we done,” I just watch people enjoying themselves at the Abbey. Every day I see people who don’t come to worship and may never walk through the doors of our church. We know their names, their college majors, their passions and their workplaces. Every day we are in relationship with people that would never consider walking into church … and they come back even when they know we are a church. Speaking at our church a year ago, Brian McLaren reminded us that in a pluralistic world, faith communities are not measured by what they do for members but by what they do for non-members, it’s not about membership benefits anymore. Every day we offer hospitality. Every day we grow in the practice of caring for others whether it is the homeless man that loves to play our piano or the condo dweller that loves to talk about her next adventure of opening a store to design playrooms for children.
Do I wish they would come to church? Yes. Do I pray that we might be the place that opens their eyes to see past all the worries and barriers they have placed between themselves and the church? Yes, every day. Until then, we listen closely and make their favorite lattes.
Rev. Debra McKnight, New Start Associate Pastor
Urban Abbey, First United Methodist Church, Omaha, Neb.