The Bridge is a coffee shop and ELCA
supported ministry in St. Charles, Mo.
By Wendy Healy
As many churches and faith groups look to redefine themselves to better meet emerging community needs, an ELCA coffee shop and fair-trade store in St. Charles, Mo., is redefining “doing church.”
The Bridge, a coffee shop and new ELCA ministry supported in part by the generous offerings of ELCA members, describes itself as a 21st-century watering hole.
Elizabeth “Libbie” Reinking, a mission developer and a diaconal minister, likens the unique way The Bridge is engaging the community to John 4, where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well. “Jesus didn’t have to go there to Samaria, but he knew he would meet the people there,” Libbie says.
Meeting the people where they are is the mission of The Bridge, a 900-square-foot shop found among a gym and a dog-grooming parlor in a strip of stores in New Town, a planned, or urbanistic, community.
People stop in for coffee. Some buy fair-trade jewelry, scarves and décor items, while others talk with a barista or meet for fellowship. People also come to hear music during a jam session or to praise God during informal worship on Thursday evenings.
“The unique thing about this,” Libbie says, “is that people get what a coffee shop is and get what a church is. We’re doing ministry here, even though it doesn’t sound like a church or look like a church. What actually happens in church? We gather, we discuss, we pray. We do that here.”
Libbie says that on any given day a man might stop in to talk about his wife’s terminal cancer. A woman might show up because she feels badly that she doesn’t love herself like God loves her. An elderly woman drops off her husband, who is living with Alzheimer’s, for a few hours of respite for herself. Sometimes patrons simply stop by to try a new coffee flavor.
“I’m often asked, ‘How is this church?’” says Libbie. “This is a church in mission; this is the church in action. Wherever people are, we are there with them.”
Becoming a pastor and barista -- one who makes and serves coffee -- was the type of mission start that Libbie sought. “I wanted to do church differently. I wanted to be an atypical minister,” she says. The Bridge opened in 2008 and has expanded as the needs of the community grew.
“It’s like a millennial Mayberry,” she says, built in the middle of corn fields and home to both young singles and retirees. “It’s a place where everyone knows your name.”
Only accommodating 15 people comfortably, The Bridge hopes to soon move to another shop that is double in size. In addition to funding through a grant from ELCA churchwide ministries, The Bridge is also supported by three local ELCA congregations -- Living Lord Lutheran Church in Lake St. Louis, Christ the King Lutheran Church in St. Peters, Hope Lutheran Church in St. Charles -- as well as Christ’s Church, a congregation of the Reformed Church in America, one of the ELCA’s full communion partners.
The congregations supported Libby’s internship and also provide volunteers, including the pastors, to work the shop.
It is Libby’s hope that The Bridge will continue to build on its mission and “that it provides a safe and sacred space to explore people’s own connection to God as they walk their own spiritual journey. There are a lot of hurting people today -- a lot of people not connected to other people, let alone connected to the church. They are looking for a place to belong and to feel a purpose. That’s the people God sent us to connect with. In this day and age, people look for a place to belong. I think the Spirit blows mightily in a lot of different ways.”
“The Spirit is blowing mightily here,” Libby adds. “We’re here for a purpose -- not to convert people, but for people to express their faith or try a strawberry smoothie.”