Cowboys, Coffee and Breakfast: innovative ministries creating community

Holy Grounds Community Coffeehouse. Morning Manna. What each of these have in common is a desire to find and know the people who live, work and play in their communities. Each is the result of continuous prayer, thoughtful planning, and more than a little persistence on the part of the congregations connecting with their neighbors.

Cowboy Church

If you want to see a cowboy or girl in church, you best hold your service on Tuesday evening. Why? Because those folks travel and work on the weekends, moving from town to town on the rodeo, county and state fair circuit. So when Cowboy Church gathers, it’s Tuesday evenings at John and Pat Poole’s place, Adonai Tsuri, in Van Buren, Arkansas. Poole and his wife, and members of their Heritage UMC life group, had a vision of reaching people in the cowboy culture. According to Kip James, a member of the life group, the Poole’s vision was to offer a place where someone could come straight from feeding cattle or work, and experience welcome and belonging. That vision became reality with the construction of Adonai Tsuri, Hebrew for “God Our Rock.” The building is nestled in a bucolic setting overlooking a lake. Women and men—most of them laity—share the responsibility of delivering the message, and music leans toward bluegrass, country and hymns.

“The Poole’s wanted to offer a service where everyone was welcome,” James wrote in an email. “There are no expectations about your background in the Christian body, if you have been to a church or never been to a church.” The relaxed, come-as-you-are atmosphere has appeal for all ages, and it’s not unusual to see multiple generations worshipping together. “You always want to come to see how the Lord has worked in people’s lives,” James wrote. “To understand that God still is at work in this world and how much he truly loves us.” Adonai Tsuri Cowboy Church meets at 7 p.m. each Tuesday at 4500 Old Uniontown Road, Van Buren. For more information about Adonai Tsuri, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ adonaitsurieventvenue/.

Holy Grounds Community Coffeehouse

When an out of town guest suggested they get a cup of coffee, the Rev. Bill Buchanan realized that a national food chain was the only place in Forrest City to get one. He also recognized that there was a need for something different, someplace that served up more than a cup of joe. That’s where Buchanan and the members of First UMC Forrest City found the inspiration for Holy Grounds Community Coffeehouse. The congregation, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, owns a house that had served as a district office and parsonage but hadn’t been used in some time. Constructed in the 1930s, the two-story building was ideal for the project and could be brought back to life with some remodeling.

Excitement grew as the idea of repurposing the building as an outreach ministry took root.

In addition to offering Westrock fair-trade coffee and a simple menu, Holy Grounds will be serving up a place for people to meet, read, and talk. And if those conversations turn to the subject of God, well, Buchanan is okay with that.

“A lot of churches have found that a coffee house is a comfortable place to start the ‘God conversation,’” Buchanan said. “It can be a gateway into the church for some people, a jumping off place for mission and ministry for others, and, for some, it will just be a place to hang out and enjoy a quality cup of coffee.”

Any profit the shop generates will be used to support the ongoing missions of the church, especially those in Tanzania, Africa, where the congregation has supported missions for a number of years.

Buchanan points out that the primary purpose for Holy Grounds is to be a gathering place for everyone, one that comes with a faithbased perspective.

“It isn’t about recruiting new members, although we do encourage and welcome anyone seeking a church home,” Buchanan said.

The congregation is intentional in making the coffee shop a place for community use. They want to make it available for book clubs, small groups, artists to exhibit their works and musicians to perform.

Buchanan said the mission for the coffee shop is simple: “welcoming our neighbors, and partnering with local mission through delicious, fair-trade coffee.”

Morning Manna

Jesus was pretty clear that no matter what people were hungry for—forgiveness, healing or a full stomach—it was the believers’ job to feed them. The Rev. Jody Farrell, pastor of Genesis Church, a satellite campus of Central UMC Fayetteville, takes that teaching pretty seriously.

Any Sunday you’ll find members and the neighbors of the south Fayetteville campus, serving up coffee, fruit, bacon, eggs, pancakes, and the like with a side of genuine interest in one another’s lives.

The idea of providing a meal has been around for years, and the campus was already a haven for homeless persons living nearby and who often came for a meal. But Farrell sought something different. He envisioned worship incorporated into the meal, a breaking of bread between members of the same community.

“We needed to do something with the same kind of relationally-driven approach to ministry to enter into people’s lives,” Farrell said. “The idea is, that rather than doing the sacraments, like we’d normally do in our traditional kind of setting, that we look at the meal as a sacramental opportunity to break open the bread of life.”

It was this past spring that the concept came together when Farrell and the staff heard Verlon Fosner speak at a conference in Tulsa. Their task was to bring church to those in attendance as God revealed it in Christ, especially in regards to mealtime.

By August, and with frequent communication to the meal goers, the Sunday morning breakfast transitioned into a worship called Morning Manna. Everything that happens during the service is done within the context of the meal: music, a Gospel message and extemporaneous prayer. The message is always a story about Jesus interacting with everyday people and it’s given in a conversational manner that gives churchgoers an opportunity to think about it in terms of their own lives.

On any given Sunday, Farrell said, you can find individuals from each end of the socioeconomic spectrum talking, eating and praying together. He believes diversity is all part of God’s divine plan.

“There is power of different types of people coming together, where our differences are real, but they pale in comparison to the unity that we have in the spirit of Christ,” Farrell said.

Farrell is hopeful that more Morning Manna mealtime worship experiences will be replicated across northwest Arkansas. With the worship service averaging 130, Farrell says it is attracting new as well as seasoned Christians because they see ministry possibilities through the experience.

“In this way, evangelism and discipleship are occurring simultaneously with the idea that if Christ is at the Table and if Christ is in you, then Christ will come out of you around the table,” Farrell said.

For more information about Genesis Church and the Morning Manna service, visit https://centraltolife.com/genesis/