This month’s focus on outreach led thESource staff to Christ in the City, a group of seminarians from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, working to create a coffee house church in the middle of urban St. Louis. In June, 2003, Christ in the City began renovating an abandoned church building, utilizing the service help of area youth, volunteers from the Concordia system, and ex-prisoners from the Acts 1:8 Mission Society Care Team. Outreach via a coffee house church is the ultimate goal, but outreach is also the means as Christ in the City seeks to touch a community with the love of Jesus. Read on to learn more!
By Joe Burnham
The congregation, founded in 1868, had disappeared. The church, built in 1887, was falling apart. The neighborhood, once farmland, is now in the heart of Midtown St. Louis. The surrounding demographic, once predominantly German-American, is now…well it depends which door of the church you exit.
Out the back door is urban St. Louis, populated mostly by impoverished families. The houses, like the church, are falling apart. Many of the residents of this community are trying to work out a better life for their children, better than one living in an impoverished neighborhood with little promise for the future.
Out the front door is the pristine Jesuit University’s Medical Campus. Every day, future medical professionals and their teachers pass by the front door.
As prominent writer and thinker Leonard Sweet suggested to Christ in the City leader, seminarian Chad Lakies, our group is working to bring these two ends together, uniting community and campus under the cross of Christ. We’re just beginning our work, which means we must first reach both the community and the campus. Our journey begins this way:
Ever walk by a coffee house? If you’re anything like me, your body awakens as the smell of freshly roasted beans wafts across your nose and delightfully tickles your senses. Coffee houses evoke a unique, friendly, conversational atmosphere. That’s the atmosphere we want to create. In a neighborhood where Starbucks won’t go, we want to provide a coffee house, a place to get that morning jumpstart, afternoon pick-me-up, or evening recharge. A place to be with friends, do homework between classes, or just relax. A place people want to go.
Where will we place our coffee house? In a 117-year-old church: brick walls, stained glass, a “distressed” historic building. Through an incredible blend of historic and future, it’s a place living not in but out of the past.
This historic-future idea carries into the worship our coffee house will ultimately host. While the set-up won’t change as the service begins, the feeling will. Imagine the transformation as the words of the liturgy take the place of small talk and general conversation, the transformation that occurs when people begin placing emphasis on God’s redeeming work and his Word and Sacrament. The speakers will vibrate with modern sounds proclaiming our ancient faith. Through a variety of visual effects, the Law will cut to the heart and the Gospel will bring relief of conscience and challenge for a response of heart, mind, and soul. Water will bring the dead to life and the Body and Blood will forgive and feed starving souls. People of today will join the Patriarchs and Apostles of yesterday to be united under the love of our timeless God.
But why bother with coffee in the first place? Though financial support for a congregation made up of students and urban dwellers is a secondary motivation, there will be no Starbucks pricing here. Instead, our goal is to connect with people, to create a place where we can meet them and they can meet God. A place where we meet a felt need so we can serve another need, opening the door to a relationship with the Divine that might be unknown and unfelt.
The response to our idea has been overwhelming. Students, faculty, and staff are excited about the idea and anxiously await our Fall 2005 opening. While some only look forward to what is coming, others have joined to make it happen. A community resurrection is happening.
This new life extends to a renovation. In partnership with the Acts 1:8 Mission Society and the Lutheran Ministries Association’s Care Team, the building is becoming useful again. The Lutheran Ministries Association’s Care Team is a program that helps ex-prisoners reenter society. The program provides temporary jobs while giving ex-prisoners training in life skills that they might become productive citizens. Two Care Team participants currently serve alongside our youth to help renovate the old church building, and each group learns from the other along the way.
Through this reconstruction, outreach is happening. Kids on the fringe are becoming a part of something meaningful and are gaining a team of adults who believe in them, a foundation that brings genuine discussions of faith. Ex-offenders, seeking a new start, are finding people who speak and live the love of Christ by accepting them and offering vocational training. People from the campus and the neighborhood are witnessing the service performed by the adults and youth committed to this idea, and they are asking questions about what motivates such action.
An incredible amount of work remains. The renovation needs to be completed. Funds need to be raised. We are still working on identifying business partners. There may not be coffee yet, but there is a Christian community building. This was the goal all along.
Joe Burnham is a second year seminarian at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis Missouri. He has been working with Christ in the City since its inception in 2003.