As Pastor Joe Wyatt delivered his Sunday morning sermon, he didn’t mind that a family was snuggled up on a couch, listening to him. Or that another group of church members was listening in between bites of breakfast.

After all, this is, you might say, a coffeehouse for the Lord.

Wyatt, pastor of Whiteland United Methodist Church, is “rethinking church” by offering an alternative service each Sunday at the newly opened – and church-operated – Under the Sun Cafe.

“The alternative service is the same God,” Wyatt said. “It’s the same faith; it’s just a different way of experiencing worship.”

Under the Sun is a nonprofit, with proceeds given to community programs, said Ginger Murphy, the cafe’s communications director.

“When you eat,” she said, “you give.” The main reason Amanda Coleman eats at the cafe is because she knows her meal is contributing to the community.

“When you are able to go out and eat with friends and give back,” she said, “then it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Each table is adorned with small vases holding freshly picked flowers. Coleman lightly stared at the vase on her table as she listened to Wyatt’s casual service Sunday. Some members interjected with questions and comments, which is encouraged during the alternative service.

“The cafe and service are both something new and refreshing,” Coleman said. “I like this service better because it’s a little more contemporary and relaxed.”

The cafe opened earlier this summer, and during its opening weeks it has donated more than $150 from the server’s tip jar to the local food pantry.

Conference grant

The church was awarded a $50,000 grant through the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church. However, almost all of the grant money was put into the startup costs of the business, renovating the facility and bringing it up to date with health codes.

“If we show we are growing,” Wyatt said, “they will grant us more money. Eventually we will be self-sustaining.”

With bills such as $2,000 in rent and buying kitchen equipment, other local churches and organizations, such as New Faith Communities and the Center for Congregations, have pitched in to help with the finances. Murphy said she is hoping churches of other faiths will see the difference the cafe is making and want to be part of it.

“A lot of people get wrapped up in the rules of whatever their denomination is,” she said. “And we are trying to, with this cafe, erase those boundaries. We want everyone to participate, no matter what church you go to.”

The menu was created by chef Carl Huckaby, who works at the Chez Jean Bakery and Deli. The church buys many of the items for the cafe’s food from him. The cafe’s menu includes coffee, 12 sandwiches, gourmet soups, salads and five desserts, including sugar-free cherry pie, one of the pastor’s favorites.

“I am diabetic,” he said. “I can appreciate the sugar-free cherry pie because it’s just amazing.”

Gathering place

Eventually groups will be able to use the cafe as a gathering place, Wyatt said. They plan to have concerts, book discussions and tutoring there. To encourage students to come hang out, the cafe offers after-school specials for teens from 3 to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Rachael Hanger said she is excited to bring her friends to the cafe because she helped bring the idea to life.

Rachael, 12, Greenwood, spent many hours demolishing walls to help create the space for the cafe. Although she would rather have spent her summer days cheerleading, she said that in the end, “it was worth it.”

“This place is giving back to the community,” she said. “And that just makes me feel good.”

Lindsay Machak is a reporter for The Indianapolis Star. This story first appeared in the Aug. 9, 2009 issue of The Indianapolis Star © 2009 and is reprinted with permission of The Indianapolis Star.

Photos courtesy of the cafe.

Members of two generations plan a skateboard night over lunch at Under the Sun Café in Whiteland.

“The cafe and service are both something new and refreshing.”

-- Amanda Coleman

Chicken velvet soup is a favorite side with meals.

Pastor Joe Wyatt preaches from a stool at the café.