By Daniel R. Gangler

INDIANAPOLIS - Looking for a way to reach out to a very urban setting and diverse population, one of the United Methodist downtown Indianapolis churches opened a coffee house ministry on Sept. 14.

According to the Rev. Chad Abbott, 31, pastor of the recently configured Lockerbie Central United Methodist Church on the corner of New York and East Streets, "Our journey began in our Justice Team, which tried to take a look at the coffee farming industry in Third World countries. We wanted to start a Fair-Trade Coffee Project and started off small."

Members of the team hoped to eventually come to where they arrived last month with a full blown coffee house, named Earth House Coffeehouse & Books. Abbot said the dream came to reality this past December, during a trustee meeting. "We were going room by room looking at our space, when a parishioner mentioned our dream of a coffeehouse. One of the homeless men from Lighthouse Mission spoke up, 'I am a wood worker by trade. I'll build you a coffee bar.' We were shocked and yet excited. That same week we received a $2,000 donation as seed money for Jeff to begin building the bar. Little did we know that it would turn into this amazing new ministry," said Abbott.

Targeted to three groups

The coffeehouse is aimed for all people to enjoy, but is targeted to reach three group - young adults, specifically college and grad students; the artistic community, which we have already developed through the Herron School of Art at IUPUI and a local poetry group; and faith groups that are looking for space to come and share their faith together through discussion, Bible study, books or lectures. Earth House also appeals to people who are interested in environmental and social justice especially dealing with the coffee industry.

The coffeehouse is only one of the outreach ministries at Lockerbie Central. According to Abbott, there is one person on site who essentially plays the role of a social worker directing people to community services. In connection with Center and Roberts Park United Methodist churches, Lockerbie Central members provide a hot meal twice-a-month to more than 400 poor and homeless people out of the church's basement. The church also provides a space for homeless people to express themselves through a magazine on homelessness called One Paycheck Away, which is a voice of advocacy and hope.

In addition to social services, Lockerbie Central provides several spiritual services. In addition to traditional Sunday services and Sunday school, the church offers a weekly study at the church on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and a Koinonia group the last Monday of each month on a range of topics.

The church also offers a yoga group that meets on Thursdays, which members wish to expand to include full ministries of health and wellness. As in any church, there is always pastoral care and counseling as needed.

Called to this ministry

When asked when he personally felt called to this ministry, Abbott responded, "The ministry to the homeless has always been a part of my consciousness since my undergraduate days of working in St. Louis. There are more than 3,000 verses in the Bible which speak to God's people showing hospitality to the poor. I take that very seriously. So, when it came to pastoring at Lockerbie Central UMC, where homeless come through our space daily, it came very natural to me.

Abbot and his wife, Shannon, are both M.Div.-degree graduates of Princeton Theological Seminary in Madison, N.J. Shannon, is a social worker, who also holds an M.S.W. degree from Rutgers University. They have a daughter, Isabel, who will be two-years-old in November.

"In terms of the coffeehouse ministry, it came through the dreams of others and the desperate need for a unique cultural space that also offers people an opportunity to share in meaningful conversation," he said.

In addition to his work with the poor and homeless in Indiana, Abbott has worked in similar urban ministries in St. Louis and New Jersey.

An invitation

Patrons of the coffeehouse will receive an invitation to be part of the Lockerbie Central UMC. "We intentionally have church folks volunteering in the coffeehouse and bookstore to specifically develop relationships about our unique community. We have already seen, in the short time we have been open, an interest in the church from people who have come through our doors. Some of them have even attended church a couple of times."

Lockerbie Central hopes the coffeehouse ministry will be a cultural hub for all kinds of people, students, artists, local businesses, seekers and anyone who might come through this part of the city.

"We are hoping that we can develop long standing relationships with people throughout the city so that events can be held in our space and nationally known speakers could come and share their ideas with us," said Abbott.

He sees this ministry as a viable and vital outreach. "Just the relationships we have established in the past month is testimony to what it can become in the future. It will be vital so long as we remain committed to it and seeing that people make it a regular space for their sense of well being, reflection, and community."

Abbott observes that "the Lockerbie community just east of the downtown business district is quite unique because it has the extremely wealthy and powerful, sitting alongside the stranger, poor and homeless. It is a paradoxical community for sure, but we seek to find a way to minister to all people."

Abbott can be reach by e-mail at jazzmanindy@qmail.com or by phone at 317-637-2716.