A coffeehouse offers ‘Peace, Coffee, More’ … and conversations about Jesus
by Roland Lovstad
At the crossroads of a university campus and a regenerating city community is a coffeehouse that may be as close to a church as some people ever encounter.
“Peace, Coffee, More,” reads the business card of Donna Green. She’s the manager of Crave, a coffeehouse in the sanctuary of Christ in the City Lutheran Church. On the doorstep (literally) of the Saint Louis University (SLU) medical campus and in the midst of an urban community, it is a ministry to a new generation.
“I’m a firm believer that people can’t know Christ until they see Him lived out in the lives of others,” says Green. “Our agenda is to love people and build relationships and, of course, it moves from there.”
Crave offers coffee, a great breakfast and lunch, and a catering service for a ready university market. Some evenings, it hosts live music by area musicians. Calling Crave “a business that is a ministry and a ministry that is a business,” Green gets requests for prayers when she delivers catering and engages in compelling conversations over latte orders.
Well aware that many customers have no acquaintance with the Christian church, Green and her staff work on relationships. Eventually the conversation turns to, “So, what is this place?” Then it’s time to say Crave is also a Lutheran church and talk about God’s love in Jesus Christ.
“Time and again God shows me how this place affects the lives of people,” Green remarks. “This is how we get to have intimate talks with people about ‘Who is this Jesus?’ and ‘What does He have for me?’”
Green and Rev. John Rathje, pastor of Christ in the City, keep eyes and ears open for customers who may need those words of peace and more. In fact, the baristas are trained to alert Green or Rathje if a customer appears to be having a rough day.
“We like the campus and neighborhood to see us as the church with a caring heart,” Rathje comments. “We try hard to ensure that people feel accepted so those conversations can take place.”
Installed last July, Rathje is the 17th pastor of Christ Lutheran, but the first full-time pastor since 1995. Founded in 1868, the congregation saw the city of St. Louis surround it, prosper, and then decline. After the part-time pastor left in 1995, ambitious seminarians from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis–later assisted by the LCMS Missouri District and the Lutheran Church Extension Fund–began the transformation that continues today. Volunteer labor and support from area churches helped refurbish the facilities.
As a seminary student, Rathje served as a barista in the coffeehouse. Now, he notes, the campus ministry attracts students from other area universities and even from around the world. There is a congenial working relationship and contractual agreement with A Good Start 2 Daycare on the premises. Crave hosts the Gate District West Neighborhood Association and its dream to make the neighborhood a safe place. There is worship at 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 8 p.m. Tuesdays at SLU’s Busch Student Center.
People are attending worship, joining small groups, and taking adult instruction. “One of my main jobs is remaining focused on ‘This is Your timing, Lord,’” Rathje says.
He cites the challenge of the established church engaging the 21st century: “It is a widening gap,” he observes, adding that more people–whether international students or U.S. citizens–have no background with the Christian church.
“A number of other people could care less about walking into a church again,” he continues. “Yet, they come to our coffeehouse, and they help clean up the neighborhood. In all those places, Christ can be found through intentional conversations.”