April 14, 2008

Sacred Coffee Shops and Wonder Bread

I read all 5 pages of Christianity Today's featured article, How to Save the Christian Bookstore (Hint: Stop making it so religious.) and I have a question for the author.

What's Communion bread?

The article concludes that Christian bookstores will have to change a lot if they're going to survive. The author wraps up his conclusion with the question, "When the pastor runs out of Communion bread on a Saturday night, who will he call for help?" Aren't there any grocery stores in his neighborhood? Or any 24-hour pharmacy super stores like CVS or Rite-Aid? They sell bread--can't the frantic pastor visit one of them on a Saturday night?

I know the author's question was tongue-in-cheek, but it made me think about how we (the church) often designate certain things as Sacred and certain things as, well, Not Sacred. Profane is probably the right word, but not one I typically use or hear. Secular is probably the most commonly used descriptor. So there's sacred bread that's set apart from this world for Communion use, and then there's secular bread you buy at the local Piggly Wiggly and cover in mayonnaise for ham sandwiches. Mix up the two and you'll likely cause confusion and offense.

That's also why there are sacred songs that only true Christians should sing, and then there are secular songs that everyone else can sing. If a group of secular people sing a sacred song on a secular TV show, there's going to be some moral outrage for all different reasons. Notice that it's not about the content of a song, specifically. Secular people can sing spiritual songs without causing too much of a stir, but certain songs have been set apart as sacred which makes them entirely off-limits.

The distinction even surfaces in some contemporary church strategies for reaching out into our communities. Some churches I know are hoping to open a coffee shop of sorts that will be open during the week as a form of ministry to the community. It's not a new idea. Ebeneezer's Coffeehouse has been open for about 2 years as a ministry of Mark Batterson's National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and there are plenty of others across the country who are doing similar ministries.

Do communities really need sacred coffee shops down the street from the "secular coffee shop" that already exists? In this case, an attempt to do a good thing--ministering to a surrounding community--could actually risk hurting local businesses that already provide those services. It's possible that the church could better serve them, and better spend her money, by frequenting local coffee vendors and befriending the people in the already-existing community instead of building sacred duplicates of things that already exist. (Thanks for some of these thoughts, Matt.)

The community that's built every day in the coffee shops and bars across our neighborhoods is probably as sacred and profound as the community we try to build in our churches (and sometimes more so). And I think a group of people singing together in an effort to raise money for starving and hurting children across the world is sacred, regardless of the words or the quality of the song they sing.

After all, I think a regular loaf of Wonder Bread from the local grocer's bakery is as worthy of being communion bread as you or I are worthy of receiving it.


Blythe said...

good thoughts, jason.

Bill said...

i think the issue for me is tied up with being the church.

the people are the church - so those beautiful conversations that happen in the local coffee shop are church.

but as christ-followers, we have this call to gather together as a body to celebrate, grow and be a place for others to do the same. unfortunately most of these coffee shops aren't gonna let you do that on a consistent basis - thus the idea of starting one where it can happen. all of it. the daily getting together that flows naturally into the weekly getting together. a place to belong daily and not just on sunday. the church being the church all the time.

so i'm all for the church that opens a coffee shop as their regualr place, and with you on not having church open one simply as an 'outreach' that is competing with local business.