The sign caught my eye first. In blocky orange and black writing it said: THE HOUSE COFFEE BAR. It was attached to an unassuming building lurking in a spot where I was sure there had never been a coffee shop before. I ventured a little closer. The big metal dumpster sitting outside confirmed that this was still a work in progress, but there was a little piece of paper tacked to one window. I leaned in to read:
We believe in ventis, extra shots and real conversation. We believe that love never gives up. We believe that church is more than a building. We believe the fulfillment of being the church is far greater than the feeling we get going to church. We believe that pretending only fools the pretender. We believe to love is to know that you're alive. We believe in getting it done. We believe in real people, real stories and real change.
Ah-haa! Not only a coffee shop, but a coffee shop with a church. Or maybe a church with a coffee shop. Either way, this was interesting. And it was just over the road from our apartment.
Well, you know what these churches-with-coffee-shops are like. They have ways of drawing you in. Put your nose around the door and before you know it you're having dinner with the pastor and agreeing to get up at 6:30 am to minister to caffeine-hungry commuters. It's a slippery slope, I tell you.
Actually, it's been fantastic. It's been the kind of church I was hoping to find but wasn't sure it existed in this part of the world. They call themselves City Life Center and started meeting just last year, the outworking of a vision of a few Canadians. The irony of migrating several thousand miles to found a church in a city already over-populated with churches is, I'm sure, not lost on them. On the face of it, it is not the most obvious thing to do. However, it is doing things a little differently than most churches around downtown. For a start, it meets on Saturday evenings (and the irony of leaving my job so that I could go to church on Sundays just as I found a church that meets on Saturdays was not lost on me!). Where other churches have lofty sanctuaries and white-robed choirs they have a carpeted conference room and a sound system that could blow your ears out. You get a coffee break in the middle of the service and personal prayer, should you need it, at the end. And you get a small group of people with very big hearts.
The House Coffee Bar is by way of a community outreach. The church is part of the Assemblies of God denomination, who helped them out with some funding, so they were able to get some nice interior design in place. No squashed raisins or spilled juice on the floor here. The clientele tends towards businessmen with their laptops and young professionals from the nearby apartments. Also with laptops. They sit at the dark wood tables peacefully sipping their vanilla lattes and tapping away for hours on end.
For those of you who have experienced the controlled chaos that is Cairns Cafe in full flow, you will appreciate that it is another world. Yet, at the same time, eerily similar. In another city, on another continent, there are still never quite enough volunteers, ordering the right amount of product is still a headache, and customers still appreciate a friendly smile and a place that feels like home. In this new environment I am a volunteer, not a manager, which means I get more fun and less headaches, and I am gradually unravelling the mystery that is an espresso machine.
More to the point, perhaps, Graham and I are gradually unravelling the mystery that is the Christian faith, and learning how we can live it together, here, now. This place is helping. A lot. And that can only be a good thing.