By The Reverend Greg Foraker
In Fort Collins on a Wednesday afternoon, visit the Starbucks on College just north of Stuart and you will find, in the middle of this bustling midtown coffeehouse, people gathering each week in a ritual of sharing, reflection, and connection.
What began 15 months ago as a way for parishioners to meet the new associate priest has morphed into a vibrant ministry for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Fort Collins. Inspired by a clergy colleague in another call, and billed as “Fr. Greg’s Drop-In Office Hours,” a new ministry was born. Promoted on the parish website, on social media, and in the church bulletin, this gathering has not only endured but also thrived. Each week parishioners, newcomers, and those with no connection at all to St. Luke’s arrive on Wednesdays between 3:30 and 5:30 pm for reflection with Fr. Greg and each other. Sometimes one person shows up. Sometimes there are as many as eight. Only on two occasions over the 15-month course of this ministry has not one soul arrived for conversation.
Who gathers and what people bring to the table varies. Members of a ministry group arrived one day to wonder if the time had come — it had, it turned out — to retire a long-standing ministry. Another week, newcomers who had made their first connection to St. Luke’s over coffee decided, yes, they would worship at a Sunday service. They ultimately joined the parish community.
Questions run the gamut from “How is God calling us to respond to the needs of our community?” to “What exactly do Episcopalians believe?” (No simple question at all!) And “To whom exactly do you pray?” In this caffeine-infused space, the Holy Spirit is palpably present.
Each week it is spontaneous gathering: you never know who might join the conversation. That very uncertainty fuels a suspenseful curiosity about who might attend and what the topic might be. Topics or agendas are devised on the spot. No formal prayers are said. Instead, the conversation flows from those present. The questions and concerns they bring, and their prayers, often emerge organically.
The encounters and conversations are surprisingly deep. Parishioners bring their fears about an illness or hurts over a broken relationship. An engaged couple shares their hopes and dreams. Laughter erupts and tears flow freely there, while our neighbors enjoy coffee and humming conversation at surrounding tables. No one seems to notice the depth of sharing at the center of it all. The noisy and public nature of the coffeehouse communicates safety and welcome.
Stories of wedding planning and family celebrations unfold one week, while another week intense reflection centers on the struggles of our divided nation and how we might respond. Parishioners have even arrived at the coffeehouse requesting a blessing on their anniversary before heading out on the town for a celebratory dinner. University professors have come to share ideas as they plan a Sunday morning forum and moms have arrived, babies and toddlers in tow, seeking connection with the more-than-pint-sized.
As “Drop-in Hours” continue unabated at Starbucks, the Thursday-morning offerings at church go unattended. People seem to prefer to visit their priests in a sunny and people-packed coffeehouse.
While some have expressed misgivings over the corporate setting of an international coffee chain, there is something entirely open and accessible about gathering with a clerically-collared priest in this most public of spaces. Baristas notice Drop-In Wednesdays for what they are, a neighboring ritual, and they respond with warm hospitality, stopping to introduce themselves and even to ask about St. Luke’s. Following the Sunday service, parishioners often confirm that I’ll see them at the Drop-In as they shake my hand and head out the door.
Clearly, the Spirit is present and at work on Wednesday afternoons at Starbucks in Fort Collins.
The Reverend Greg Foraker was called to join in ministry at St. Luke’s in November 2015, serving as Associate Rector for Leadership Development and Vocational Discovery. He comes from the Diocese of Arizona where he served at St. Philip’s in the Hills in Tucson.