--By Leslie Uriss Spehar--
Something new is brewing in Bradford, PA. Just off of Main Street, in the heart of downtown, A Whole Latte Love Café opened its doors to the public last spring. Staffed entirely by volunteers, the coffee shop is a ministry of the Bradford Area Parish including West Branch, Asbury, Custer City, and Rew United Methodist Churches, with a goal of offering locals of all socio-economic levels the opportunity for fellowship.
Some want to call it a Christian coffee shop, but Rev. Matt Blake, senior pastor for the charge, prefers a different moniker. “This is a non-alcoholic bar,” said Blake who has shied away from labeling the nonprofit venue as Christian. “Even though we’re a Christian coffee shop, we don’t want that to stop people from coming in the door,” he said.
Blake first got the idea for a coffee shop while attending a congregational development seminar in Phoenix, Arizona with Jim Walker, who was then Director of Congregational Development for the Western PA Conference.
“When they moved me to Bradford,” he said, “I knew God wanted me to do something here, I just wasn’t sure what. While I was out there in Phoenix with Jim Walker, God gave me the idea of a coffee shop.”
Blake says the café is a place where people from the church can build relationships with the community and people in community can build relationships with each other. To this end, they recently held a police appreciation night, inviting law enforcement from the surrounding areas as well as community members to participate in what turned out to be something akin to a block party with a band.
“We welcomed the four police departments and their families and the community around Bradford. We had a free dinner and thanked them. It was very well attended.”
The café is also becoming a meeting place for groups of all kinds.
“More and more groups are starting to use it,” said Blake. “We’ve had growth groups where we discuss spiritual matters. There is a group of women that meets weekly and another group in their 20s that play cards every morning.”
Blake hopes to take it one step further and begin holding services at the café, along with a jazz music night.
“As pastor, I believe that I’ve built enough relationships with people from all over the community that people who don’t attend church would come to this one,” he said. “I personally believe that if you show people your Jesus, they will believe. I believe you can accomplish more that way than handing out tracts or bible thumping. It’s creating a neutral atmosphere outside the church where we can build relationships. The overall goal is to move people into the church.”
One of the most unique features of the shop is its Pay It Forward Board where patrons can buy a cup of coffee or other item for someone else who may be in need or low on funds on any given day. Donors simply write their donation on a Post-It note and place the note up on the board.
“The Pay It Forward Board is working well. We’ve noticed people will come in and use the board when they don’t have any money and then come in another time and give us $10 and ask us to put it on the board for somebody else.”
According to Blake, the Board has never been empty.
The Parish churches have provided some funding for the the café, but it is mostly supported through donations and coffee sales. Much of the furniture and all of the sound equipment was donated by individuals, and one generous donor also provided the funds for the first six months of rent on the storefront where the cafe is housed. Creative Coffees in Bradford supplied and maintains all the equipment, and provides the coffee at a 30% discount. This enables the Café to charge just $.50 per cup of coffee.
Blake hopes the donations continue to come in, especially for rent. “That’s the big thing. If we can pay the rent, we’ve got it made.”
To donate to The Whole Latte Love Café ministry, or sponsor a day/week/month of coffee, contact Rev. Matt Blake at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the café’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/awholelattelovecafe. The page shows a thank you note from a British visitor who requested prayers while visiting the cafe and features the coffee flavor of the week along with other updates.