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Church targets student partying by opening coffeehouse

 


The Buzz on CampusChurch targets student partying by opening coffeehouse

Feb. 27, 2004

A UMNS Feature By Amy Green*

Bridget Cabrera likes to spend her evenings at her church across the street from the University of Alabama, where she is a music education student. She gathers at the church with her friends to sip coffee, play games, watch movies and - sometimes - do homework.

It is a quiet retreat from the parties her roommates like to throw. "The cool thing is when you get down there, it doesn't feel like you're in church," says Cabrera, 22.

It appears Trinity United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa has achieved its goal with at least one student. Troubled by the university's growing reputation as a party school - it was ranked among the nation's top party schools in the annual Princeton Review survey in 2002 - the church decided to give students an alternative to the alcohol-laden bashes they were accustomed to.

The result was Quirkey's Coffeehouse, opened last August in a former church storage room with a name that gives an accurate description of the place. With a setting more reminiscent of a "Friends" episode than a church fellowship hall, the coffeehouse has become a popular hangout among students.

It shows them they don't have to drink to fit in, says the Rev. Alan Head, church pastor.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
UMNS photo by Lyle Jackson

Alan Head (center), pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., says Quirkey's Coffeehouse shows young people they don't have to drink to fit in.

"It lets them know Christ meets us in our everyday experiences, in familiar settings," he says. "The search for belonging is universal, but Christ can be the center of that. It doesn't have to be the alcohol or party scene."

Against a colorful backdrop of custom-made furniture and artwork, the coffeehouse offers snacks and a beverage bar where students can mix cappuccinos and smoothies, three televisions with DVD players and two computers with printers. The coffeehouse also has extra outlets for laptops.

"I wanted to present biblical truths in whimsical and quirky ways," says Doris La Grone-Kispert, a church member who designed the coffeehouse.

For example, the bar is lined with bottles, each bearing a single letter, and together they read: "Strong drink is an abomination of the Lord." A chalkboard is framed with the verse John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" - written in 27 different languages.

The window treatments are galvanized tin, and all the plumbing and wiring are exposed.

"I wanted to illustrate (that) so much of what goes on in us, it's known only to God," says La Grone-Kispert. "We don't tell our innermost feelings to everyone every day. But God knows the inside better than the outside."

College students make up about half of the 200 who attend Sunday services at the church. Trinity spent more than $20,000 on the coffeehouse, with help from an anonymous donor and La Grone-Kispert and her husband. Students pay for their own drinks and snacks on an honor system, and so far their money has covered costs, Head says.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Doris La Grone-Kispert transformed the basement of Trinity United Methodist Church into Quirkey's Coffeehouse.

The coffeehouse, open from 6 p.m. to midnight seven days a week when school is in session, targets primarily the freshmen and sophomores who grow restless in the dorms near the church. In particular, Head says, it is designed for those from small towns who might feel lost at the 20,000-student university and may not be interested in athletics or joining a fraternity or sorority.

They gather at the coffeehouse for class study groups and Bible study groups. They watch movies, use the computers, play games and order pizza. Eventually, the church plans to offer open-mike nights and possibly draw local bands for concerts.

Cabrera says she values the coffeehouse for the friends she has met there. She attends services at the church regularly but prefers getting to know her peers in the congregation and their friends in a more leisurely setting.

"It's a place where I spend most of my time," she says.

The coffeehouse provides an unusual ministry opportunity, according to Nathan Putman, a student in biology and marine science who lives at the church as an intern. Students who turn out merely looking for good coffee and company might learn about other church activities and become involved.

He especially hopes the coffeehouse steers young students away from groups that could lead them into the party scene.

"You come to Alabama, and it's a big place, and a lot of folks don't necessarily know a lot of people," he says. "You want to have a place where you fit in and people listen to you and you feel accepted. ... This kind of gives people an opportunity to come together and meet up with good folks."

*Green is a freelance journalist based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 or
newsdesk@umcom.org

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