As Mead's Corner closes, a church community seeks a new home

Josh Melcher, music director, plays guitar while Leslie Coates, venue leader, plays mandolin at The Gathering, a church service that meets at Mead's Corner.
Josh Melcher, music director, plays guitar while Leslie Coates, venue leader, plays mandolin at The Gathering, a church service that meets at Mead's Corner. Courtesy Photo

Worship music mingles with the smell of coffee Sunday evenings in Mead's Corner.

Now, the little church service that meets in the coffee shop is looking for a new home.

Past and current members say the nature of the space is important to The Gathering at Mead’s Corner and they hope they can find another public venue in which to worship together.

“It’s a bond that is strong in a way that I don’t experience in similar secular contexts,” said Kate Davis, a lay worship leader at The Gathering. “It’s also very welcoming. It’s very open. We don’t put any restrictions on what you have to believe or how you talk or what you think.”

The Gathering is a worship service of First United Methodist Church that has met at Mead’s Corner since the shop opened in 2008. Before that, it met in the basement of First United Methodist Church. The church’s website describes The Gathering as a place for people who “enjoy poetry readings, book clubs, and open mic nights.”

“The Gathering is a worship experiencing mixing current experiential ideas with ... ancient liturgical traditions for a rich, bold flavor, just like your favorite coffee,” the website reads.

Mead's Corner is the coffee shop ministry of First United Methodist Church. They serve fair trade coffee and have donated thousands to charitable causes. A steep rent increase is forcing the ministry to close.

For the Rev. Elizabeth Winger Young, The Gathering (called “Next” until a re-branding in 2013) was a place where she found her voice as a preacher.

More of a classic worship person, she found herself drawn to The Gathering because of the community, a mix of ages and income levels that meets together for worship and regular meals. Eventually she became a rotational preacher for the service. Today, she is pastor at Argonia United Methodist Church and Harper United Methodist Church.

The service at Mead’s Corner allowed the community to think outside the box and reach out to others, Young said.

“It meant that people who weren’t comfortable going to church in a regular church setting who’ve maybe been hurt by the church before felt comfortable there,” Young said. “It meant that you didn’t have to sit in a pew and listen, that you could be part of a dialogue."

Learning that Mead’s Corner would close was “gut wrenching,” Young said. The coffee shop wasn’t only a place of worship for her. Her husband proposed to her in Mead’s Corner and it was in the shop that they announced her pregnancy with their second child.

“It was just such a diverse community because people would walk off the street,” she said. “It will be hard to find a space that’s open to everyone and everyone can see that it’s happening the way it happens there.”

Leslie Coates, venue leader for The Gathering, said he was about to start asking other businesses about a new place to meet. Members of The Gathering made it clear that the public nature of the church was important, leading him to look at coffee shops, restaurants, parks and similar spaces.

While only about 15-20 people call the church home, many more come for shorter periods of time, dropping in for coffee and ending up staying for worship, Coates said.

They hope to stay in the downtown area and keep their 5 p.m. start time. Coates hopes they will find a new space before Mead’s Corner closes July 28.

Davis started to attend The Gathering almost by accident. She had been invited to Mead’s Corner by someone she had met at a weekend retreat. Thinking she was being invited out for coffee, she arrived at Mead's Corner on Sunday evening.

“I showed up and it turned out it was church,” she said.

She then volunteered to serve breakfast with members of The Gathering at a homeless shelter. Soon, she found herself loving the community.

Now, her feelings change day by day about the closure of Mead’s. Some days she’s excited for the opportunity. On other days she’s sad or scared.

What she hopes is that The Gathering will retain its core identity as a space welcoming to many different people, she said.

“I’ve never been in a church that regularly has the kind of diversity that we have at The Gathering,” she said. “Sometimes that means racial diversity, but more often it's theological diversity, income diversity, age diversity. … I think that’s really precious to me and really special.”

Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @kathsburgess.