Java & Jesus
cafés open around the territory
During the 60’s and 70’s, the Christian coffeehouse movement energized a generation and reached many seekers who never would have set foot in a traditional church.
Today, the movement still lives in The Salvation Army. Several corps are using it to appeal to the millennial generation with a mix of live music, coffee, and Jesus.
At the Montclair, N.J., Citadel Corps, about 20 people gather once a month for “Sunday Night Renewal” in a café space at the corps called “The Coffee Booth” (playing on Army founder William Booth’s last name).
“The Bible is pretty clear about our need for Sabbath, but so often for many of us, Sunday is a day filled with many duties,” says Chuck Goodin, the organizer of the event and the territory’s young adult, camp, and sports ministries director.
God’s power, not mine
Goodin explained that Sunday night becomes a time when people “start ramping up their schedules to take on the coming week.”
“Adam and Eve’s first full day was a day of rest,” Goodin says. “Starting from a place of rest in God seems to be His plan. So ‘Sunday Night Renewal’ is about starting the week and the month from a place of rest.
“When we start from a place of assurance and security, then we are ultimately saying, ‘I entrust my life to the living God, not to my own strength and abilities.’ ”
Jim Bailey, a member of the corps, leads the praise & worship each week, but guest worship leaders are often invited.
“It is very informal and musicians are invited to show up at will and to join the band,” Goodin says.
Coming to the Cross
Goodin said the format changes, but it often involves extended and meaningful contemporary worship, the reading of Scripture, a devotional by a guest speaker, and prayer.
“There is a significant amount of prayer and Bible reading in every one of those meetings,” says Major Kevin Stoops, Montclair Citadel’s corps officer.
Goodin adds, “The goal is to foster renewal among the participants and to make sure that people know that they can leave their burdens at the Cross.”
Goodin said the people who come to the café “feel more connected” to the corps.
“Their growth is deepening rather than expanding,” he says. “I have received testimonies from people saying they feel more connected with other believers since we started this.”
A fresh start
Other people have shared with Goodin that they were burned out 20 months ago, but “Sunday Night Renewal” came along to meet a need.
The story is quite different at the Devo&Donuts Café at the Pottsville, Pa., Corps. Café organizer Ashley Hermany said she wanted to create a “safe alternative for young adults” in an area with a lot of drinking and partying.
“We were looking for some place where people could come and not be involved in that sort of thing,” she says. “A safe place where they would feel welcomed, and in a relaxed environment.”
The café started last June; Hermany keeps in contact with the participants through social media and through her weekly devotional essays.
About 10 people come every Sunday from 6–10 p.m., to enjoy free Wi–Fi and to sip coffee while working on their laptops. While half the gym is set up for basketball, the other half offers a coffeehouse with low–key music, free doughnuts, and popcorn.
Patrons of the café also enjoy some fun with art supplies, board games, and card games. Other benefits include cell phone charging stations, a television, a PlayStation 3, and a Keurig coffeemaker.
There is no devotional, but Hermany works the crowd, making sure everyone feels welcome. She also has a “prayer box,” in which guests can leave prayer requests.
Bringing them in
“It’s not your Sunday church service, so I don’t go preaching to people all the time,” Hermany says. “But before people leave at the end of the night, I always ask everyone if I can pray for them,” she says.
“I’m very evangelical. I’m constantly talking about the love of God and that sort of thing. There’s definitely a spiritual aspect to it.
“It really is a freeing atmosphere to be who I am and to share the love of Christ without having any holdbacks.”
Hermany, a substitute teacher, recently spent a month in Thailand counseling human trafficking victims and teaching them English.
She is committed to the Devo&Donuts Café and believes it will “rocket” when more people hear about it.
Captain Kevin Polito, the corps officer in Pottsville, agreed.
“I think the whole idea was to build relationships with people. As those relationships build, we ask them to consider coming to church here or joining some of the programs,” Polito says. “I see this as a bridge to bring people to the corps.”
Old school, Army style
Hermany said the Salvation Army’s famous Donut Girls from WWI inspire her, and she uses a poster with their photos to promote the café.
“So in terms of the café, we thought, why not go back to the roots of The Salvation Army and offer free doughnuts and share the love of Christ with anyone who would be willing to come and hang out?” she says.
Hermany said her past is another motivating factor. Before she had a relationship with Christ, she felt lonely and longed to belong to a solid community.
“When I look around at my hometown and the community that’s here, I feel like people are just crying out for God,” she says. “They don’t know what it’s like to have strong friends in a Christian community.”
“Most of them don’t realize that there are things to do and ways to have fun that don’t involve drinking and doing drugs. And so I really want to share the truth and love of Christ with them.”
When it comes to reaching out to the community, the Red Bank, N.J., Corps offers a small café with six tables and a couple of Keurig machines. It is an entryway to the corps; people stop by the café during the day and help themselves.
“When you walk into our building, it’s the very first thing that you see,” said Lieutenant Brennen Hinzman. “It’s created a welcoming atmosphere and connects us with the community.”
The theme is similar at the Safe Haven Café in Ponce, P.R., which got its start thanks to a Strikepoint grant.
Major Teresita Pacheco, the corps officer in Ponce, said four soldiers attended Strikepoint conferences and returned to the island with the vision to start a café.
Not ashamed of the Gospel
“Our vision was to create a space where people in our community can find a comfortable place outdoors where they could take a break from their hectic life. Here, they can relax, build relationships, and buy a light meal,” Pacheco says. “This allows members of the Ponce Corps to approach them in a casual way and to build relationships informally.
“The goal is to let them know that we are a church where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and that they can have a personal encounter with the Savior.”
Pacheco said that as members of the corps mingle, they hear people share stories of life’s trials and their victories.
Sandy Cancel came to the corps feeling overwhelmed by a family situation. She and her husband went to the altar for prayer. Today, they volunteer at the corps.
Cancel takes food orders at the café and her “soft and gentle personality” is a blessing to the people, Pacheco says.
Juanita Jorge, an adherent at the corps, used to be quiet and depressed. But since she began volunteering at the Salvation Army’s thrift store, she is a changed person.
“She is happy and this has helped her to communicate and express herself more,” Pacheco says.
Teresa Mattei, a retired schoolteacher, calls the café a “beautiful place.”
“You feel peace, love, and contagious joy,” she says. “I have told my friends that we should meet here to talk and have a nice leisurely time.”
Eudadlia bought a snack for her son at the café and also shared a heartfelt story of surviving cancer. She now brings her son to a program called Club 3:16 on Fridays and volunteers at the corps.
“We are more than grateful for this opportunity to serve,” Pacheco says. “In all these testimonies, we see the hand of God bringing people to the café who have spiritual, social, and emotional needs.”
by Robert Mitchell and Hugo Bravo
photography by Susan Magnano