Coffee Shops and the Power of a Welcoming Table

August 2, 2018


The church that I serve meets in the evenings twice a month to discuss faith, learn from one another, and to share a meal. Instead of sitting in a room and hearing a sermon and scripture, we are actively wrestling with what it means to have a faith that forms our lives. Lately, the children have been leading the group in singing "Come to the Welcome Table" as we begin. I am reminded that each time we gather around the table, it is an invitation to create something new.


Pasquale Rosée changed Western society in 1652 by creating a space for others to gather around a table. You may not recognize his name, but author Steven Johnson identifies Rosée as founding what would become “the origin point of an institution that would be more influential than any other public space in England over the next century and a half.” The institution was none other than the first coffee house in London.


Learning how to make coffee after traveling through modern-day Turkey, Edwards opened the first coffee house in a churchyard shed. An informal space, people did not go to the coffee house to hear a lecture, vote, or start businesses. The coffee house was not a lecture hall, boardroom, or political headquarters. Yet, the coffee house became a place where people began gathering to discuss ideas that would significantly impact society. The coffee house became a space where cross-disciplinary dialogue could occur between individuals like Joseph Priestly, who would discover oxygen, and Benjamin Franklin. London insurance market Lloyd’s of London began as a coffeehouse. 


The first Christians were not meeting in a church. There were no large sanctuaries or auditoriums. Worship services weren’t filled with music, organ, and preaching. Rather, the early Christians gathered around a table. Poor, rich, Jewish, Gentile, male, female, conservative, and liberal gathered together to share a meal, as well as their faith and they thought they could experience Christ together. The early church mirrored more of the shed of Rosée’s coffeehouse than the church that stood beside it. 


The Gospel of Luke tells a story about Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). Jesus is walking with a couple of disciples as they talk about life, scriptures, and faith. You would think this was an amazing experience, disciples having an opportunity to walk the evening road listening to Jesus. In the story, however, the disciples don’t realize it is Jesus until they sit at the table and break bread. Luke point is clear. There is something powerful that happens when we gather around the table. 


For those who are hungry, let us not forget that it isn’t a pew, the light coming through stained glass, or the tall steeples, but rather the table which is the holiest place of all. 




Everything about coffee houses comes from Steven Johnson's book Wonderland: How Play Made The Modern Word, (249-255). Yet, after looking through Johnson's writings I counted no less than five other books about the influence of coffee houses on Western culture. Johnson recognizes his obsession with the coffee house, saying that he sees it as that important to our modern Western culture. Johnson said in a recent interview that he now has a piece of tape over his desk that says, "DO NOT WRITE ABOUT COFFEE HOUSES!"

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