“I’ve never made coffee before.”

That’s what I wrote in an e-mail to my pastor a few days before I was scheduled to brew the Sunday morning coffee for our congregation. In retrospect, I don’t blame him—or any of the deacons he must have emergency-contacted soon after—for the response that followed.

I don’t drink coffee; my apartment never smells of it, and I lack the skill or knowledge to brew it. When I think of its connection to church life, I’m brought back to my childhood church’s fellowship hall, where the scent of slightly burnt, sale-shelf, pre-ground roast floated in the air from the bellies of ancient Bunn coffee pots that had squatted in the back kitchen for as long as I could remember.

I’d watched my mom fill those metal drums many times, and so, counting on this experience to guide me, I signed up to make coffee for my own church several months back. I was willing to serve. When I saw later that my name was the only name next to “coffee” on the calendar for that Sunday, though, I emailed the pastor for instructions so that I could serve well.

I’m not sure what I expected—probably something like: “use this many scoops, and turn it on at X o’clock.” Instead, I was immediately emailed a detailed list of instructions. The same list was posted in our church’s kitchen next to the pots, I was helpfully informed, and it included the ideal timeline on which each task would fall. Should those instructions prove beyond my abilities, I could also watch the YouTube video, designed to instruct the uninitiated in the customs of coffee preparation, which had been recorded and uploaded by my church’s leaders for ...

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