Give Us This Day Our Daily Brew
As the worship band exits the stage on Sunday morning, the pastor steps up holding the usual sermon supplies: a leather-bound Bible, an iPad with notes, and a latte from the church coffee shop.
This was an ordinary scene at the hip church we used to attend in Houston, where a brown paper cup was the accessory of choice for the pastor and most congregants. We all lined up before the service to purchase our Monk’s Blend teas or vanilla lattes. “Worship is just better when I’m caffeinated,” I often heard people say.
The Starbucks pumpkin spice latte has its own Twitter account, where it is pictured wearing sunglasses and reading a book in a leafy autumn scene. If the personification of this favorite seasonal beverage isn’t a signpost of a coffee-fascinated culture, I’m not sure what is. Following the continued growth of Starbucks and independent shops over the past few decades, Christians — for good or ill—have likewise become enamored with coffee. All manner of congregations, from suburban megachurches to trendy young church plants to mainline churches, have established coffee ministries, built cafes into their facilities, or opened independent shops.
A recent report by Louisville Public Media’s Gabe Bullard shows how Christians have actually shaped the popular coffee culture in the trendy, midsized city (also home to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). What this coverage shows is not cultural bifurcation, or the Christian tendency to mimic pop culture, but innovation and community building, one cup of coffee at a time. Christian baristas and coffee shop owners introduced pioneering practices that carried the city’s coffee scene along.
Public perception, as Bullard points out, often assumes that Christian involvement in cultural trends like coffee must be veiled proselytism. This has left many customers asking, “Why do Christians care about simply serving good coffee, if not as an opportunity to evangelize?” My husband has been working in specialty coffee shops since his teens, and the Chicago location he now manages is our second home. Watching him and other Christian friends work their way quietly through the coffee scene, I’ve observed the theology behind their work, and I’ve seen how coffee can be a uniquely-suited vocation for Christians to live out the image of God.
A Third Place
Historically and globally, people have come together around food or beverage—dinner tables or restaurants, living rooms or bars. The coffee shop occupies a unique place in 21st-century America, what the article (borrowing from sociologist Ray Oldenburg) calls “a third place, ‘between work and home,’ where people gather.”
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