One in Christ or Coffee?
The danger of replacing Communion with a coffee bar.

It's very difficult for many contemporary Christians to recognize how much we have been shaped by the consumer culture in which we live—it is in the air we breathe and the water (or coffee) we drink.

Consider that in many churches the coffee bar has displaced the Lord's Table as the place where real community happens. Due in part to the neutralizing of sacred space that has been popular since the 1980s, churches began removing or deemphasizing the Lord's Table and introducing coffee bars. Without doubt the desire has been to build community by offering people a culturally familiar setting to engage one another. But we must ask: What formative message does a coffee bar convey?

A coffee bar mostly carries the values of our culture. We've come to expect coffee bars to offer a number of choices to meet our desires (decaf, tea, hot chocolate), and the setting is one of leisure and comfort. We usually gather in affinity groups. We sip the beverages not because we're thirsty but because we're conditioned to want them.

By contrast, what does the Lord's Table convey? It is a symbol of sacrificial love that breaks down cultural divisions and barriers of affinity. It reminds us that life is about being chosen by the Lord for interpersonal communion rather than choosing to consume stuff, and it reminds us we are called to take up our cross rather than seek personal comfort.

Both the coffee bar and Lord's Table affirm community, but the kind of community they affirm differs significantly. Churches with coffee bars may have to work harder to ensure they are fostering community around the values of Christ rather than casual consumerism.

At the same time, there is no guarantee that a church that prominently displays the Lord's Table and forgoes coffee will automatically model unity, pastoral care, or break down cultural and generational cliques. It's particularly hard when we engage the Lord's Table privately or solely with our friends and loved ones.

A congregation I served restructured its space to celebrate Communion with greater intentionality. One Sunday after the sermon, the congregation proceeded to the fellowship hall to celebrate the Lord's Supper around large, circular tables. We were encouraged to intentionally sit with people with whom we didn't normally associate and to share with those at our table what the Lord's sacrifice meant to us personally. After each person shared, everyone was to break bread from the loaf provided and dip it into the Communion cup at the table. This process was to continue until everyone had shared.

One woman came to me several weeks later and said that this had been the most meaningful celebration of Communion she had ever experienced. She was grateful the church had restructured its space to move us beyond our comfort zones of associating simply with the people we already knew.

In this example space, and how we utilized it, became a medium for communicating the values of the gospel and deconstructing the values of our consumer culture.

Read the full article at LeadershipJournal.net

November 23, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 25 comments

Laura

October 27, 2011  7:03pm

I live in northern Washington state, and saw a sign in my small town advertising a new church that said, "We like coffee, too." No joke.

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trish

August 31, 2010  2:40pm

I am having a hard time finding the link between the coffee bar, communion, and community? Communion is clearly-by Scripture-inherently a paradox-both a private (examine yourself) and a public-whenever you are together. What is not debateable is that it is a commandment for His church. However I have been in a lot of churches that have communion on a regular basis and no community what so ever. I honestly believe community is occurs when a group of people are growing together in Jesus, serving together, living together, and sharing together. A church with 20, 000 members may have a lot of little communities within that are more of a community than a small church where people are isolated and not involved together. Size and adherence to communion have nothing to do with community.

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Jake Eye

August 30, 2010  10:23pm

There is something true beyond my comprehension, Christ is truly present in the Catholic Eucharist. He continues to form me and transform me. I pray that one day all have the opportunity, while living, to meet Christ body, blood, soul and divinity. Peace.

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Charmaine

August 30, 2010  2:46pm

Hello. I guess I decided to read this article because I haven't gone for sacramental communion in a church for a few months, but have been stopping in to Starbuck's locations for an enjoyable cup of coffee once a week. I took it to heart when I heard a priest warn his large, sometimes impersonal congregation not to let communion become too "routine." For some it seems to be more of a social event anyway. There are some things I've been thinking through, and dropping in for a cup of coffee and occasional scone, observing others and taking silent notes on "life," is sometimes a peaceful scenario for that. Other afternoons, nothing but a pew in a prayer chapel will do. Mostly stopping in for a cup of coffee is just to have some coffee, and people shouldn't add their judgmental interpretations into such a harmless activity. There have been days a secular ecumenical environment has seemed more loving and peaceful than the sanctuary. Maybe because the people present have different "calls" and after imbibing the teachings and discerning their gifts, God has set them free. When thinking about this discussion, one fact that comes to mind is every church or monastery giftshop I've ever visited sells coffee mugs! Some places have their parish, mission, or monastery name printed on them. Other cups have little scripture sayings glazed or engraved on the side. We are taught that the sacraments impart something that cannot be received any place else. That may be most often true, though this could be dependant on the atmosphere the people have created. I've gone up for communion and received it from someone wearing a T-Shirt advertising their country club. Is that really going to make me holier or better secure me with a guardian angel 24/7 moreso than having coffee amidst others who reflect a subtle agape-love in their countenance, and continually being grateful to God in mine? The coffee mug may not be able to replace the chalice, but if God is truly omnipresent, it is possible to sip one's beverage with implicit reverent love of God in your heart. If one isn't in a monastery, isn't that partly what the sacrament is supposed to instill: the grace of God to go out into the world and be spiritually strong? When I'm ready, I'll go back for communion. But I'm not going to go up while feeling any doubts, wondering what's taking God so long to work out solutions for whatever, why hasn't going to church improved my family relations, or what's the point to the sacrament when decades of communion didn't prevent the priest scandals in the media, etc. Jesus said, "Do this in memory of Me." He also said, "Your faith has made you whole." To stop in for a coffee doesn't mean that one has forgotten God or that they are a "prodigal child." God has merely expanded my interests. Charmaine Dang this little windo w, it

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Charmaine

August 30, 2010  2:35pm

______________________________________________________ Hello. I guess I've decided to read this article because I haven't gone for sacramental communion in a church for a few months, but have been enjoying stopping in to Starbuck's locations for a coffee once a week. I took it to heart when I heard a priest warn his large, casual, sometimes impersonal congregation not to let communion become too "routine." For some it seems to be mostly a social tie anyway. There are some things I've been thinking through, and dropping in for a cup of coffee and occasional scone, observing others and taking silent notes on "life," is sometimes a peaceful scenario for that. Other days, nothing but a pew in a prayer chapel will do. Mostly stopping in for a cup of coffee is just to have some coffee, and people shouldn't read judgmental interpretations into such a harmless activity. When thinking about this discussion, one fact that comes to mind is that, every church or monastery giftshop I've ever visited sells coffee mugs! Some places have their parish, mission, or monastery name on them. Other cups have little scripture sayings glazed on them. We believe the sacraments impart something that cannot be received any place else. That is most often true, though that may be dependant on the atmosphere people have created. I've gone up for communion and received it from someone wearing a T-Shirt advertising their country club. Is that really going to make me holier or better secure me with a guardian angel 24/7 moreso than having coffee amidst others who reflect a subtle agape-love in their countenance, and continually remembering God in mine? If you want people to get serious about the sacraments, time to enforce the way people approach them. The coffee mug may not be able to replace the chalice, but if God is truly omnipresent, it is possible to sip one's coffee with implicit reverent love of God in your heart. If one isn't in a monastery, isn't that partly what the sacrament is supposed to instill: the grace of God to go out into the world and be strong? When I'm ready, I'll go back for communion. But I'm not going to go up while feeling any doubts, wondering what's taking God so long to end the war, or what's the point when it didn't prevent the priest scandals in the media, etc. To stop in for a coffee doesn't mean that one has forgotten God or is a "prodigal child." God has merely expanded my interests. Charmaine Posted by Charmaine at August 30, 2010

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David, justopenthebook.com

August 30, 2010  12:15pm

Thanks for the fantastic article. I have been struggling with this since our last church opened a new building and the coffee bar is the most prominent feature to all visitors. When church looks the same as Starbucks, have we missed something? Shouldn't the home of God's people be a different kind of light to the lost? I love your congregation's creative way of transforming communion to help build community.

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theycallmepastorbryan

November 30, 2009  10:54am

@Steve H.: I think you've missed it. Metzger is not advocating getting rid of coffee as much as he is putting forth the idea that what we emphasize is telling of where our values lie. In this case, that the current trend is a prominence of the coffee bar over and against the Lord's Table is a good illustration of how we are emphasizing a consumer mindset and not the emphasis of the Lord's Supper of consumption. The coffee bar and communion create very different sorts of community, the coffee bar tends to be a place where those of us with similar likes gather together over our similarities, whereas the community represented in communion is one that gathers us in spite of our differences, even though outside of communion in Christ we may have no reason to associate with each other.

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Steve H.

November 30, 2009  1:05am

Yes,you are on the right track....we must outlaw coffee and music and kites....women must stay at home...and men must grow beards or be flogged....The Taliban considers most forms of music to be "shirk" or associating anything with GOD ...and judging from the illustration of folks worshiping a huge pot of coffee, you must feel that way about the hot beverage....come on man, lighten up it's only COFFEE!

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michael

November 27, 2009  9:26pm

I may be missing the point but I don't see the conflict. In every church I have ever been in, communion was and is a ritual in which everyone silently eats a piece of bread and drinks a tiny cup of wine or juice. This does signify unity and fellowship but not as it is commonly understood as talking with each other, etc. As another commenter said, that is why we have a coffee hour. Even the circular table idea doesn't seem to give the same kind of fellowship. But each church should do what they think is best.

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still

November 25, 2009  11:47am

A modern-day writing on the wall? "You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways." (Daniel 5:23) "Beware of anything that competes with your loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of true devotion to Jesus is the service we do for Him. It is easier to serve than to pour out our lives completely for Him. The goal of the call of God is His satisfaction, not simply that we should do something for Him. We are not sent to do battle for God, but to be used by God in His battles. Are we more devoted to service than we are to Jesus Christ Himself?" - Oswald Chambers, "My Utmost for His Highest"

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