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Free coffee

Megan & Marilyn

Free food & drink!

A student stopped by my office last week to tell me about a conversation she had with some folks from the Federation of Students. They were discussing where to get the best and cheapest coffee on campus, and she said “That’s easy – Renison’s Ministry Centre – it’s free AND it’s fair-trade AND it’s organic!” And they didn’t believe her! No-one would do that, they told her, you must have misunderstood. And she shook her head at them. She’s been hanging out here for three years after all. “It’s free”, she insisted. “And there’s hot chocolate, and tea, and always cookies…”

There is indeed. And it is absolutely free for anyone who wants it. Partly because hospitality is a key Christian virtue, and partly because food and drink are what creates community. When a professor pops in to grab a coffee before heading to class, and a staff member sits down and has a cup of tea on their break, and a student munches on a couple of cookies (for breakfast) while studying for their midterm, then connections happen and a different way of relating takes place.

That’s not new for churches. After all, that’s what coffee hours and potluck suppers are all about. It’s how Jesus ministered – at meals and feeding thousands…

There’s a side benefit too. The student grinned at me and said “They thought this was foolish, giving away free coffee. But it changes the atmosphere of the whole college. And people follow the model – so when the student council runs an event and has left-over food, it comes to the Ministry Centre for others to share. And when there are sandwiches left after a convocation lunch, the kitchen staff sends them to the Ministry Centre with a note saying ‘Free lunch!’ And when an off-campus student bakes to avoid studying, then a container of home-made cookies appears on our counter. Everyone knows that things are better when they’re shared.”

Quite an impact from the couple of thousand dollars that goes into coffee and cookies each year from my budget! (And yes, donations help stretch that amount – from current staff and faculty who buy cookies and leave them at my office, or from former students who send in donations as a ‘thank you’ for all the cups of coffee consumed as part of their degree.)

But it’s an important message that is sent , one of welcome and valuing relationships. It’s  unspoken but clearly heard, from the chaplain and the Renison Institute of Ministry, saying, ‘Sit down and rest in the midst of community. Be refreshed. You too matter to God.”

About Megan Collings-Moore

Megan spent 8 years in parish ministry before arriving at Renison University College at the University of Waterloo. Raised as a Quaker, and with roots in the Presbyterian Church, she has been Anglican since her teen years. She loves to talk about faith and God – and enjoys a good debate! She likes finding ways to connect popular culture with faith, and thinks there is nothing quite so interesting as people, and finds that those who are seeking truth always have interesting conversations.
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0 Responses to Free coffee

  1. Megan, I could really use some of that free coffee right about now!

    In any case, I think you’ve opened up a serious discussion about hospitality, especially when it comes to the importance of food. None of this should surprise us: our worship services are built around the shape of a meal together. And if we follow the disciples’ journey through the Gospels, it’s not hard to see that eating together is part of almost every story.

    Your blog reminds me of a situation one of my former congregations was faced with. Due to the congregation’s placement in multi-point ministry, worship began at 11am. That meant by the time we were finished, the standard church ‘coffee hour’ was more or less impossible–especially for young families. Who has coffee and cookies at 12:30? Instead, our council decided to try an experiment, and each week, one person would make a loaf of sandwiches. You know the kind: those little triangular churchey sandwiches made of eggs, cucumbers, and canned meat. Then came soup, and others starting bringing treats. For about six months, we had lunch after church. And everyone stayed. Everyone.

    Sure, one of two families would run out to a family event or some other commitment, but for half a year, people were excited. We would pray and break bread together, and then as we were sent into the world, we would begin our loving service by, well, continuing to feed each other with food and companionship. It was great!

    And then, everyone burned out. Committing to providing lunch for the church put a financial strain on some members. Others just got tired. And the ministry fizzled out.

    What about the rest of you? Has anyone pulled off a great coffee/sandwich ministry like the one happening at Renison? Does your church break bread together in a way that is sustainable?

  2. The difficulty of burn-out is all too real, Jesse – most people are currently overwhelmed with responsibilities and obligations already without adding to that… I am lucky that I work in a setting which funds the hospitality offered in the Menistry Centre and sees a real tangible value in that. The chapel community here does a once-a-term potluck lunch so that we can continue to break bread together after the worship service formally concludes – but more often than that would stretch students’ budgets and time beyond what is sustainable. It’s a tough balance to manage.