A week or two ago I went to a larger church than I am used to for a special event they were having. It was good and all, and the event itself took place in the lobby where they served coffee. The cafe area was pretty nice and well designed, and it (as always) got me thinking.
Churches offering a coffee bar is pretty normal these days, especially for churches started in the last few decades. Some high church people scoff, some fundamentalists scoff, and some normal people scoff, too. Some people take issue with the idea that we could just be trying to market people in with the unspiritual means of tasty coffee. But for the most part, people like it. And it seems to have some beneficial effects. It makes a place and time where people can come, share drinks, and enjoy each other’s company. It forges a little patch of unity, a small table of community.
This is very similar to what Communion does, or at least is meant to do. Paul says that Communion makes us one body: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, since all of us share the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). The same can be applied to the cup: we all drink the same cup of the blood of Christ, and the washing of His blood makes us all one body.
Now, there are probably many layers to answering the question, “How does Communion make us one body?” But at least one part of it has to do with the fact that Communion is a meal, and meals bind people together socially. I’m sure you can imagine what I mean. People bond over shared food and drink all the time. You go out to eat on a date to get to know each other. You celebrate Thanksgiving together by sharing a turkey and some potatoes and cranberry sauce. Family memories and routines often center around a dinner or breakfast table. You could almost say that family is simply who you eat supper with.
Part of the “power” of the Lord’s Supper to make us into one body is just that: the power of a supper. (This is why, by the way, it should really be celebrated more like a meal whenever the group size makes it possible.) And this power is something it has in common with coffee.
Drinking coffee together is a lot like sharing a meal. And, socially, it works mostly the same way. Coffee dates are as much a thing as dinner dates. Office workers talk as much by the coffee maker as at the lunch table. People make and meet their friends at coffee shops. As we share a drink in common, we share our thoughts, our news, our loves, or even our faith.
A coffee bar in the church foyer, then, can be kind of sacramental. It can be a way that Christ works to create love and unity among the members of His body. An outsider, walking into a church for the first time, might catch a glimpse of the fellowship which we share in our Savior who brought us together in the first place. For those looking for community (and who isn’t?), the coffee bar can be a sign that God has provided just that in His Church.