The Journal Gazette
Saturday, May 27, 2017 1:00 am

Ministries careful to follow guidelines


Fort Wayne-area church-affiliated coffee shop ministries are using various strategies to deal with operating regulations – ranging from limiting clientele, hours and menus to devising special organizational structures.

Some congregations, including New Haven's Grace Gathering and Sonrise United Methodist Church and Brookside Church in Fort Wayne, are open only on Sunday morning about worship service times and serve only members and guests.

If they don't serve the general public, they don't have to comply with health department rules for food establishments or zoning regulations.

Others, like Central Church's The Perk, 5801 Schwartz Road, are open to the public but sell only packaged baked goods along with flavored coffees and smoothies, said director Sara Baldwin.

That's so the shop, open since January, complies with food establishment rules, she said. She said she did not know the zoning for the church but she believed all rules were being complied with.

The church is on agriculturally zoned land, an allowed use in St. Joseph Township, according Allen County Department of Planning records.

Baldwin said The Perk is organized under the church's nonprofit umbrella. The shop donates some proceeds to a mission organization that provides clean water in the Central African Republic, and the rest goes back to the coffee shop ministry. The shop is run by two paid part-time staff members and about 50 volunteers, she said.

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 729 W. Washington Blvd., is considering starting a coffee shop ministry in a storefront of the former A-1 Mark's Appliance building the congregation owns at 714 W. Washington Blvd.

The congregation is still mulling particulars and organizational strategies, said St. John's pastor, the Rev. Paul Offhaus.

The shop, which the congregation envisions as an outreach to the surrounding neighborhood, received a grant from The Lutheran Foundation, Fort Wayne, Offhaus said.

The congregation also hopes to apply for a city facade grant based on architectural renderings, he said. A congregational meeting June 4 will lead to a vote on church renovations that will better connect the church and school to the shop, Offhaus added.

He said he anticipates the shop will be set up either as its own nonprofit or would be leased to and run as a business. A church member, Bruce Robinson, who has experience in the restaurant business, is developing specifics for complying with regulations and laws, Offhaus said.

Baldwin said members and patrons like The Perk. Organizers have been asked to expand hours and at least one group from another church has asked and been allowed to use the shop for meetings.

“We want it to be an outreach, that the public can come in and say, 'Oh, this is a welcoming place.' We want it to be a hospitable place,” she said of the ministry. She said she traces decisions to do ministry with her own life to a chance encounter with someone while in a coffee shop.

Offhaus said he is learning that it may take more than just wanting to start a ministry and having a place to do it.

“It does give one pause,” he said, reacting to Peace Lutheran Church's experience starting a coffee shop ministry. “There's a lot to it.”

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