Church or Coffee Shop: Thoughts on Space and Self-Reflection


By Javier Soegaard

Wow. Careers are the new religion I guess. (This text from a friend spurred the following reflection. Blame him if you disagree or if your time was wasted.)

I was sitting in a nifty coffee shop along the South Boston Waterfront, just steps from the chapel where I work. Between sending emails and reading the waning pages of GRRM’s A Dance with Dragons, I noticed a cozy group of peers about 12 feet away. They were seated on couches, drinking their fancy latte-things, but unlike most patrons, they were not hard at work on laptops, tablets, and/or smartphones.

Instead, their implements were construction paper and markers.

Naturally I was intrigued and, snoop that I am, I couldn’t help but find out what was going on. To my surprise, they were engaged in an activity much like one I had done a thousand times on religious retreat. They used their tools to map out a roadway (or in one case, a river) of their life: key moments, key people, and key decisions along the way that led to them to the here-and-now of their careers.

Once I realized this, I did decide to stop listening intently–partly because my book was getting good, but mostly because I felt creepy and untrustworthy. However, being so close to them, I couldn’t help but notice that they had entered into a place of deep sharing, of real vulnerability and emotional intimacy.

As fascinated as I was by this group, what shocked me most was the public nature of their gathering–of their candor and full disclosure within earshot of random people writing business proposals or, in my case, reading fantasy sagas that will never be completed.

So I was puzzled. I wonder if they know a church is open right next door: a quiet space, a sacred space, a safe space.

 And then I wondered some more. Is the Church even a safe space anymore?

Now, there’s something wonderfully apostolic about these coffee-shop retreatants exploring real human depth in a public place. I imagine Peter, Paul and gang operated a bit like this in the infancy of their ministry. However, even those great public proclaimers of the faith moved into house-churches to celebrate and contemplate the full mystery of their faith and their life.

So, a great question is posed to us who claim to be evangelists, ministers, and members of the faithful. Our latte-drinking friends are proof that the desire for interpretation and self-reflection is alive and well in younger generations, despite what our co-religious skeptics would have us think. Thus, the question is not necessarily: Why has the culture strayed so far from the Church? but perhaps: What are we, the Church, doing wrong if young people are resorting to cafés to interpret and share the wisdom of their lives?

Now I love free wifi and a caffeine buzz as much as the rest of my millennial counterparts. I hope all yuppies, hipsters, prepsters, Jesus freaks, etc. encounter these things in their local coffee dispensaries. I hope people also have good, even life-affirming conversations in these wonderful temples of the secular age. But should people find in them the safety, trust, and security necessary to map out the history and trajectory of their lives? I’d hope not.

Especially not when our churches can and should offer such a better space for this enterprise: a space where the goal of life is not simply a career or a handful of career goals, but the true and lasting peace that comes from living in Christ.

Friends, as ministers, evangelists, and the faithful we are not only bearers of good news, but also the keepers of good and sacred space. My parish is only just beginning to rethink and reshape the way we invite people back into a Church that wants to be trusted. How are your communities responding to this challenge?



4 thoughts on “Church or Coffee Shop: Thoughts on Space and Self-Reflection”

    1. Thanks, AspiringCatholic! Any ideas how to reach out and help them know God? I’m thinking free coffee is a good start, but I imagine it has to be more than that!

  1. Sounds familiar. One of the coffee shops I read, drink, write at is frequently dominated by evangelicals doing their homework. I could comment on how the coffee houses are always open, and encourage such behavior. I could also wonder about a church coffee house, do you think they would gain the same success? Though it might be the mix of cultures that generate all of the buzz.

  2. I loved reading this! I can absolutely relate to that group in the coffee shop. I attend a small group bible study that is associated with the church, but we always meet at someone’s house that is in the group. Maybe it’s a comfort thing, or a location factor, but I’m not sure if I would feel comfortable meeting in the church. Our church is beautiful and has an open door policy, but it feels so stiff and traditional. I wish they had a meeting room, maybe with a coffee shop kind of feel with sofas and chairs for us to meet.

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