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.”