By Rev. Mindi
In my last two pastoral positions, I was an office worker, or I worked from home once my son was born. I did emails, prepared sermons, counseled members, met with people and did most of my work from the church office.
This time, I wanted to be different. I wanted to get out of the office, which is in an out of the way place on the church property, and away from the church building, which is in a residential area behind a school and not something most people see and notice. I wanted to read and do work in a public space, where I might engage in some pleasant conversation that might lead to an invitation to my church.
I’m in the Seattle area, so of course the coffee shop seemed the natural place to go (If you want coffee in Seattle, all you have to do is point and walk a block or two in that direction). I have friends who love doing their work in the local coffee shop, and they know their baristas by name. But the coffee shop I went to was too sterile for conversation—people were engaged clicking away on their Macbooks or reading magazines I had never heard of. The few that were talking were in private conversations or talking about gossipy news. I was able to get work done, but I was not able to engage others in conversation. Staff were always busy behind the bar and working the drive-through. Plus, I saw I wasn’t the only one with the idea. One time, a man was sitting at his table with a very large Bible open, which he pretended to read and then scan around the coffee shop hoping someone would engage him in a conversation. I’m quite certain that had I attempted to, I would have heard more about the Bible’s “plan for my life,” and would not have actually had a theological discussion but a one-sided lecture.
Then I heard a story of a pastor who would set up in a local bakery once a week in the morning with a sign reading “The Pastor is In” (think Lucy from Peanuts). I thought the bakery in my town might be more of a suitable location. After indulging in chocolate croissants and cookies, though, I also found it hard to engage others in conversations. Again, staff were always busy, often having to work in the back to prepare the delicious food that was served, and most customers did not stay long. I still go there now and then, but more for a publically private place to read and work.
Then I found the diner. The hole-in-the-wall, greasy spoon dive place. Where the booth seats squish down and do not spring back up. Where there are bowls of creamer and bottles of Tabasco sauce on every table. I brought in a couple of books to read and some light work to do. The hostess begins a conversation about what her horoscope says. The waitress asks me about what I am reading. Every time I am in there, I see the regulars—lots of seniors who come for a cup of coffee and conversation, some truck drivers and other workers who gather for breakfast every morning, and some young couples, just off the night shift, getting in a good meal before they go to bed. It’s a mix of class and culture, with a table of women in scarves and dress shoes next to a table with two fresh-out-of-high school workers on a breakfast date with paint on their pants. Across from me sits Jack, who must be in his 80’s and has old faded tattoos on his arms, who comes every Tuesday to meet his Navy buddy, and at the next table another man also introduces himself as Jack, and he is a local pastor.
In one hour of having breakfast and reading at this diner, I made more ministry connections and new relationships than I had in the first four months of my ministry here.
It’s important to get out of the office. While there may still be some who expect their pastor to be in the office, most understand that we need to be out in the community. Sure, there are times we need to buckle down and get some things done in the office, but more and more, we need to be out and about, making connections and engaging in conversation, getting to know the people.
Find your space in the community: a diner, a bakery, a coffee shop, a pub or an ice cream parlor (another friend I know holds office hours at an ice cream shop!). Find the place where people more naturally engage in conversations with strangers. Get to know the regulars and the staff. Bring some work, but understand that by being a customer there, you are engaged in ministry already. Enjoy it!