By Chay Runnels
While my church is splitting in two, I’ve been worrying about coffee. Yeah, you heard that right–coffee. Because that’s what matters to prospective members. Not the parts about welcoming all to the Table, or even the part about making a connection with Jesus or finding peace through the Great Comforter. Coffee. Bold, light or decaf.
Don’t get me wrong. Our coffee was pretty miserable before we had a church consultant come tell us how bad it was, along with other things about our worship experience and our organizational structure. It really was weak, flavorless and an afterthought. It sort of mimicked my faith. I’d been happily attending church all my life, sipping the coffee, making pleasantries until I was forced to take a side in a larger issue that our national denomination was engaged in.
You see, I could stomach the weak coffee in the name of getting along. There was a really nice man who made it. I didn’t want to rock the boat. The white Styrofoam cups were almost retro, and besides I didn’t go to church for the coffee, right?
But then the consultant came. He told us that our coffee was thin brown water and since I was in the hospitality business I was tapped to help make a change. So I did. I researched coffee makers, ordered new cups, suggested new coffee to try. Then there was no going back.
Simultaneously I started digging deep for the roots of my faith. Why was I a Disciple of Christ? Was it because it was ever so- that my mother and grandparents and her grandparents were? Or was there something more? So I researched the Movement, followed last summer’s General Assembly on Twitter, cried, prayed and reached out to other friends who were Disciples. Then there was no going back.
Yesterday, we had a coffee tasting at church. Yesterday, we had a prayer meeting at church to consider leaving the denomination after 98 years. I found out that people have a lot of opinions about coffee, and they have a lot of opinions about church politics. Some people were upset that we were having a coffee tasting during a time when we are struggling to make budget. Some people were upset that we were having a coffee tasting while the church was struggling with greater issues. Then there were others who embraced the new coffee, the choices, the chance to vote and decide what coffee we would brew and serve to members and guests.
I found out that people have real strong opinions about coffee. They also have differing opinions and expectations about what a good cup of coffee taste like. One gentleman told me that the coffee tasted like it had been “brewed in a dirty coffee pot on a Navy ship.” So I apologized. He smiled and said “I love it!”
That’s when it struck me that there is no such thing as one “Biblical Authority.” As Christians, we can agree that the Bible is divinely inspired and we can stand on faith that its contents are true. But as humans we all interpret its message differently and we place emphasis on certain passages and less emphasis on others. And that’s okay, at least in my view, because we are all following or trying to follow Christ’s desire for our lives.
We are facing a defining moment in the history or our church- the choice to welcome all to the Table with open arms and embrace the diversity of the Disciples of Christ or turn away from our shared heritage because of political differences between the local church and the denomination. It’s a choice that other traditionally conservative churches in the denomination have also faced.
In our church, where there used to be thin brown coffee, there are now three choices, three types of creamer and a wooden box full of elegant packets of tea. Now that I’ve tasted the good stuff, there is no going back.