Sharing Faith—An Unconventional Way of Reaching Out

Post a Comment » Written on May 26th, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (May 26, 2009) – It’s not every day that a well-known musical artist performs at a small coffeehouse and then tells others that the experience staved off a growing cynicism he had felt growing within.

But Shaun Groves, who has been nominated for multiple Dove Awards, writes on his blog that this is exactly what happened at Praxis Café and Community, a coffeehouse that is part of an Evangelical Covenant Church, on Saturday, May 16.

Praxis is a Greek word akin to “doing” or “practice.” Although the church calls itself Praxis, it officially remains Hope Community Covenant while the congregation works to officially change the name.

Jim Black and Michael Rardin are the congregation’s pastors. Rardin was pastor of Oasis Chapel, a Grace Brethren congregation, which has since come together with Hope. Rardin is now licensed with the Covenant.

Between 40 and 60 people meet every Sunday in a building that once was the headquarters for South America Mission. The church leases the space from the organization.

Groves describes the café as “nothing more than a room with a TV set and a small window through which a limited menu of food and drinks is served.” But powerful ministry is taking place in that humble atmosphere—including ministry to the artist.

“Hanging out with Jim and a few other folks at Praxis Café and Community after Saturday night’s concert couldn’t have come at a better time for me,” he writes. “Like the first nose tickle of a cold, I’ve felt a bout of cynicism and judgment coming on in the wake of my trip to India.”

That evening gave him a renewed perspective. Groves told of the compassion shown to several hungry people who walked in during the concert.

“They were loved and embraced. It was cool, and it seems like God has begun a new thing.”

“Jim and some other folks served them a meal, poured them some coffee and ate with them,” Groves writes. “One of those men said he hadn’t eaten in three days, so Jim wondered why he didn’t clean his plate, why he wrapped up half of it and headed out the door. A member of Praxis walked the man home in the dark and when he entered the man’s house, he saw the man’s brother—also hungry—washing his clothes in a trashcan. He would finish the meal. The two brothers said they didn’t know the church was there until Saturday night. Now they do.”

The service on the following Sunday was different because of the concert. “There were a bunch of new people in worship, including six of the homeless guys who stopped by the night before,” Black says. “They were loved and embraced. It was cool, and it seems like God has begun a new thing.”

It’s a different sort of thing.

Policies and amenities help to make the café accessible to a broad range of clientele.

Everything is for sale by donation, so the homeless can eat free. The café also has Wi-Fi.

“Just as the café is unconventional, so are the services. No one preaches a sermon.”

The café serves Impact Coffee, a free-trade coffee from a village in Ethiopia. Two teenagers from inner city West Palm Beach run the company and split the profits between their ministry—Urban Youth Impact—and medical supplies they provide for high schools in the Ethiopian village.

Just as the café is unconventional, so are the services. No one preaches a sermon. “We have discussions, a sort of the rabbinical form of teaching, so that we can have two-way communication,” says Black.

Other groups use the building as well. A Hispanic church meets on Sunday and Wednesday evenings; First Care Pregnancy Center does training, relationship workshops, and holds teen mom meetings; and community Bible studies and support groups also meet there.

The church has a small food and clothes bank, but the congregation is looking to partner with bigger ministries already providing those services, Black says.

Both pastors are bi-vocational: Rardin cleans carpets, and Black paints houses. The church also has some money saved from the sale of Hope Community property two years ago.

Black says the church is trying to figure out a way to purchase five acres of land on which the building as well as three houses are located.

The Groves concert was the first such event for the church. Black hopes the space will enable them to reach out musically more often in the neighborhood. An open microphone night will be held June 12, and the congregation would like to have live music on Friday nights.

To read the rest of Groves’ blog entry, click here.

To read a story in The Covenant Companion that Black wrote about ministering one Christmas Eve to employees of a strip joint that had a crèche on the roof, click here.

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