In this coffee shop, the service is divine

staff writerOctober 19, 2009 

— Even the most traditional churches lay out coffee urns on tables outside the sanctuary.

Some more modern megachurches have built-in cafes where visitors can order a latte or espresso.

Then there's the Hope Cafe, an establishment off Tryon Road that is a church and cafe rolled up in one. There's no separate sanctuary, no dedicated altar, no stage to speak of.

From 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, customers can order soup, sandwiches, ice cream and, of course, coffee.

There's a newspaper lying haphazardly on a coffee table and two flat-screen TVs tuned to ESPN.

But at set times during the week, the cafe doubles as a church. There's Bible study each Wednesday, a book discussion on Thursday and a worship service every Sunday.

"We felt there was a need to meet the community in a different way," said the Rev. Jack Watson, Hope Cafe's pastor. "This is a crossroads for believers and those seeking God."

The cafe is intended to appeal to people who may feel uncomfortable stepping into a more formal church service but might appreciate a more relaxed setting of small tables or deep-cushioned leather love seats. For those less certain about their religious leanings, there's Monday Night Football, open microphone on Fridays and live music on Saturdays.

Aside from a cross stenciled on the wall above the ordering station, there's little to indicate that this is a Christian setting. The walls are decorated with bold, expressionistic paintings by artist Kathy Ammon, one of a series of artists the cafe hopes to attract. The stained wood floors and modern area rugs suggest a commercial enterprise.

But the Hope Cafe is a nonprofit venture. Profits from the sale of food and drink are channeled back to the church. Each month, the congregation selects a different ministry to partner with.

This month, it is helping the Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network. On Saturday, it hosted a dinner and concert for the network's clients -- homeless families with children

The cafe, which moved into its present location last month, is nondenominational in its approach to church, though it aligns with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate coalition of Baptist churches. Watson formerly served as pastor of Woodhaven Baptist in Apex.

At a time of increasing pluralism, the nondenominational approach is key, said Eric Beavers, minister of music and arts.

"If we're feeding the homeless and we need the community's help, it's the cafe that's asking people to help out, not a Baptist church," Beavers said.

Sunday's 10:30 a.m. service drew about 70 people, many of whom have been a part of the congregation's core, called Hope Fellowship Church, for several years. But alongside them was a group of mentally challenged men from a group home. Transportation was provided for the men; the church also started a mid-week Bible study for them.

'Unstructured'

The cafe is technically closed during the Sunday service, though the doors are open and people are free to wander in.

Aside from a 20-minute sermon, the service features a band playing praise songs to tunes such as "Glory to God" and "Beautiful Savior." Words to the lyrics are projected on a screen.

Free coffee, bagels and cream cheese line a table in the rear of the cafe. And there's a children's room equipped with games and a changing table.

"I like that it's an unstructured structure," said Bob Rossi of Fuquay-Varina, who has attended the past four Sundays. "I like the informality and the friendliness of the people."

Andy Andrews, who has attended Hope Fellowship Church for several years, said he's a traditionalist when it comes to church and wasn't sure how the cafe concept would work.

But, Andrews said, it's growing on him.

"Times change," he said. "And you have to be willing to change."

Yonat.shimron@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4891

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service