Just past my kids’ school, there is a red brick church with a cafe in the lobby. It isn’t where we worship but I pop in there some afternoons in between errands and the school pick-up. There is a comfortable tub chair in the corner next to the radiator and I like to sit there for a quiet half hour or so, just me and a book, warming up after a walk.
There are plenty of tables where you can sit to eat lunch and, over by the wall, there is a full bookshelf with a sign that reads: Free to Take, Please Donate. Up at the counter, you’ll find muffins, cakes and sometimes a plate of cookies. The people who run the cafe make hot lunches and sandwiches and all sorts of people come and go – grandparents with toddlers, a group of women after their Bible study, an older couple who live around the corner. It is a lovely, lively place, but the most remarkable feature of this cafe is the coffee.
Now, you might expect that from some uber-hipster cafe downtown with third-wave coffee and tattooed baristas. Or maybe a cafe in the local arts centre where poets spend time before the gallery opens. But in a church cafe? Really?
Yes. Because this cafe offers the full range of coffee. Espresso, latte, cappuccino, you-name-it. You can ask for filter coffee, if that’s your thing, and they will pour you a beautiful cup. Or instant coffee, as strong or as weak as you like it. You can order whatever you like. No judgement made. No snobbery. That, my friends, is hospitality.
The coffee menu
Some people don’t feel at home with a tiny cup of espresso. Likewise, some are never going to feel welcomed by a mug of instant coffee. So this little church cafe offers both. It meets everyone where they are – not to change them, but to welcome them.
I don’t know what kind of discussions the congregation had about starting this cafe. Maybe the idea was to bring in a little more money to pay the heating bill or to make the church more engaged with the community or to combat loneliness locally. I am sure that it does all of those things, but for me, that full coffee menu says everything.
This is a church that sees each person as an honoured guest, important to God and to the church.
This is an open, responsive church.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote about his striving to become all things to all people. We often turn his phrase around and say it isn’t possible. How can one person possibly observe and meet the needs of all people? Any parent will tell you that such attention is exhausting. It is hard work watching, worrying and finding ways to meet every scuffed-knee, lost-shoe, broken-heart need that comes along. The trick is not to do it alone, and I’d hazard a guess that Paul learned the same thing in the early days of the church. It is so much easier to look out for others when there is more than one set of eyes doing the looking. This is the richness of congregational life. We look out for each other. We meet each other’s needs. Christ works among us as we care for each other.
In these days of uncertainty and fear, maybe this metaphor of the coffee menu seems insufficient to express our hopes for faithful hospitality. Particularly as this is still coffee you have to pay for. But I think that the metaphor’s strength comes from the daily nature of coffee. This isn’t complicated. It’s just family.
Over the past few years, my own little family has learned this in new ways. Early in our marriage, the Spouse and I lived in Ottawa where I grew up. Sunday mornings found us in the church where we were married, sharing the pew with my parents. Now, we live across the Atlantic and far away from all our family. But every week at church, we are surrounded by grandparents, aunts and uncles, Sunday School classes full of cousins, sisters and brothers and everyone one else in the varied and interconnected family of Christ. Together, we are the full coffee menu of folk, all called, welcomed and loved by God.