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‘Rather than a Starbucks’: Calgary churches open cafes to reconnect with community

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It’s an institution some love deeply and others love to hate – the church. Now some ministries are using a hot cup of joe to reconnect the church back with the whole community.

Knox United Church opened Sanctuary Coffee back in June. It looks and acts just like your local coffee shop – but has the added appeal of pews, high ceilings and stained-glass windows.

Minister Greg Glatz said the venture has been so successful they’re making plans to build a permanent one and other churches are now coming to him for ideas to bring people back into the space.

“The goal is not to build Sunday morning attendance because people can sniff that out,” said Glatz.

“People’s B-S meters are so finely tuned now.”

Knox isn’t the only one opening up an enterprise. Hillhurst United Church said they’re discussing plans to build a microbrewery in their gymnasium and Centre Street Church has plans to open a modern cafe similar to the one they already have at their new campus.

Different denominations sure, but they all have one goal in mind: Rebuild social connections they feel have depleted over the past few years.

Glatz said their cafe was built to accomplish three things: Address social isolation, boost employability of their volunteers who are often newcomers and ensure a vibrant future for the church. That last point means opening their doors and talking to people from all different backgrounds.

Minister Greg Glatz from the Knox United Church  JOSIE LUKEY / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

“I had an atheist in here.” said Glatz.

“He says, ‘I don’t normally feel comfortable in churches, but I feel comfortable here.’ And we went from a discussion about spirituality and religion to ‘Hey, have you thought about bringing board games in here?’ And ‘I think I can find a place to get board games.’ And so that community building is happening now in a different kind of way than it was 50 years ago.”

Glatz added that it’s those kinds of conversations that need to happen if the church is going to have a future. He said people who don’t have a strong relationship with the church may now find a safe space to have conversations around the topic.

Pamela Aramburu with Centre Street Church says their cafe isn’t just a money-making venture. They partner with the Calgary Food Bank to help fill hampers and offer free meals to those in need on Monday nights.

“We always say that our churches are in the community for the community. So, we’re not here to make money, we’re just here to serve and to provide a safe place.”

Aramburu adds that while churches are a bit of an unconventional place to enjoy a latte, it’s a unique place, and a unique setting for people to be in.

“Whether it’s for a meal or a longer period of time, we’re just are a place for people to come and hopefully have a meaningful conversation. I hope that’s why people choose to come here rather than a Starbucks.”