A couple weeks ago, I was in a different Starbucks, working on a sermon and a bunch of other writing that I needed to get done, and I was in a crowded corner where I could touch at least three other tables without having to get up from my own chair. And so, even with my headphones on and my music turned up, I still couldn't escape hearing the conversations happening around me.
One of these conversations was a chance encounter between a college student and the campus ministry director from her school. She was doing homework, he was meeting a different student, but they took a moment to catch up, and he was inquiring about her success (or lack thereof) in finding a church to attend during her four years at school. She talked to him about the difficulties of settling into a church for a short, four-year stint, and how churches don't seem to know quite how to engage college students, or any young adults who are still transient. He invited her to some campus ministry events, left a business card for her, and walked off, to meet with his regularly scheduled appointment.
I sat there, biting my fingernails for about five minutes. I wanted to believe that this was "holy eavesdropping," and felt stirred to continue the conversation that this young woman had begun. And after deciding that I'd regret this opportunity if I didn't do anything, I got up, slid over four feet into the empty chair at her table, introduced myself, and asked if she'd be willing to tell me more about what it was like to be a college student looking for a church in this day and age.
I don't know that she said anything that surprised me - talk about wanting to connect with peers, and wanting to be at an authentic church where it didn't feel like people were simply trained to say the "right answers," and wanting to engage deeply with a congregation, but how challenging that is when you are temporary.
But I realized, in that encounter, that there is something in me that is intrigued by coffee shops and ice cream shops and public places where there might be more opportunities for "holy eavesdropping" and open doors to conversation. I sort of like the idea of being "that pastor" who hangs out in coffee shops and "outs herself" as a pastor at appropriate moments to give a word of hope and grace to people around her.
Because I wonder if coffee shops and restaurants are their own brand of confessionals, where people go to process life and confide in friends and converse about the ups and downs of life. And maybe the church isn't the right place for those conversations, for whatever reason. And might we think about ways that the church could move out to the places where these conversations are happening, rather than waiting for these conversations to come into the sanctuary and find us?
*Sidenote: Pssst...Naperville! How 'bout you find a place for a good indie coffee shop, perhaps downtown near the Riverwalk? I love Starbucks and Caribou is pretty good, especially the new one on Ogden, but really, I would adore something more local.