It was a cool, crisp Friday night in October 1969. I was a young college junior who had just transferred to Wheaton College in the western suburbs of Chicago. What was I doing walking around by myself on these "mean streets" just a few blocks from the Cabrini Greens Housing Projects and not much further away from Old Town. Cabrini Green was a 4 square block area where over 20,000 people lived in cramped, run-down, overcrowded apartments. Gang violence, drugs, and crime were nightly occurances. Old Town was Chicago's version of San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district. It was where run aways gathered, hippies stood on every street corner, tourists gawked and users bought and sold everything from marijuana and LSD to heroin and cocaine.
Just less than a mile to the east was the "Gold Coast" district - an area of expensive, high rise apartments, condominiums and exclusive restaurants, shops and businesses clustered along Lake Shore Blvd.
Here I was - a total neophyte to the big city, wandering around talking to strangers, inviting folks to come over to our coffee house ministry at the corner of Division and LaSalle. We called this practice "fishing." Unlike some other Christian groups who cornered people on the streets with tracts and hard-sell witnessing or else megaphone amplified preaching, our approach was to invite folks in for a warm shelter, a cup of coffee or tea, a place to shower, get fresh clothes, engage in conversation and listen to music. It was there that many, diverse folks were introduced to Jesus and found their lives changed.
That was a long time ago. We had Beatles posters on the walls, black lights everywhere. Wild, vibrant paint on the walls, bean bag chairs and pillows on the floor. For tables we used large industrial wire or cable spools left over from the public utilities company. The atmosphere was about as far different from church or traditional Christian hangouts as it could be.
Out in front, bikers parked their Harleys and on the corner of Division, the greasy but impelling aroma of Sammy's Red Hots was a magnet that drew people right to our door (I don't think it is still there but Sammy's sold the greasiest and best polish sausages in Chicago - smothered in grilled onions and dripping with grease from the hot french fries piled on top. MMM, I can still taste those - literally, I think I can still taste them 40 years later.
Anyway, those memories came flooding back to me as I was walking the "mean streets" of Enumclaw this morning. Funny you should ask "why?" Because I was headed to Lindon Books to meet some folks for coffee and to talk about the vision Calvary has for a coffee house ministry right here in our little town. Yeah, that's right, in this coffee-glutted area where Espresso stands are on nearly every corner and the 'green mermaid' seems to hold a monopoly over every other roaster and vendor of caffeinated beverages, we are joining forces with our local independant bookseller to create a venue for great coffee, good reading, authentic conversation, live music and much much more. It is the 2009 version of what I was doing back in 1969. Wow! Deja Vu all over again, huh?
So, this Friday night (May 15) is the unofficial grand opening and debut of WIRED and it features a group called the PHEROMOANS (I am as curious as you are) who describe themselves as a local, indy, acoustic folk band. In the mean time we are lining up groups for Friday nights during the summer. We also may do some open mike poetry and music. We very likely will have a trivia night or two. And everyday, there is free WiFi and fresh espresso from Longbottom Coffee out of Hillsboro Oregon.
It doesn't sound very churchy does it. It may not be as radical as my 1969 coffee house. But in the same vein, it will be a place where people can come, relax, have a good cup of coffee, and talk about important stuff; spiritual stuff; whatever. No preaching, no altar calls, no offering plates. Just the kind of place I think Jesus would probably hang out in if he were present on earth today. I think it is often in the market places where people gather - outside the sometimes closed confines of institutional churches - that people engage their minds and their hearts and meet Jesus. We are praying that people meet Jesus because they meet some people who are his followers who live out their faith authentically and are at ease talking about it naturally with others.
While we see the music and wifi appealing to some who are part of a younger generation, it is by no means closed to others who want to come in and browse the shelves, surf the net, share a cup of coffee and conversation with a friend or with a stranger, or simply have a few moments of quiet to themselves - away from the hustle, routine, and pressures of everyday life.
So come on out and get WIRED. Tell your friends and family about it. I had a great cappucino there this morning with my friends. I may go back for another cup this afternoon, just to try the wifi and outline my sermon. Maybe I'll see you there.