COLORADO SPRINGS. Members of St. Patrick Parish are spearheading a new initiative to reach out to people who currently aren’t affiliated with a church but are interested in exploring topics related to spirituality and religion.
The Lifetree Café is a series of programs designed to be enacted by lay persons, either on-site at a church or off-site in a neutral location, in order to spark conversations among people who may or may not attend church and build friendships in the community. The program was originated by Group Publishing in Loveland.
The St. Patrick initiative is the first-ever Catholic, parish-sponsored Lifetree Café. The organizers have been training volunteers and will kick off the program Oct. 3 from 6-7 p.m. at the Third Space Coffee House, 5670 N. Academy Blvd., in Colorado Springs.
On a recent Tuesday, a training was held in the community room of the Third Space Coffee House. Volunteers shifted furniture, set up tables and readjusted them so that the wall-mounted television screen was visible to all the participants.
Ann Christensen, a ministry leader of St. Patrick Parish and one of the organizers of the café, began the training. In the class, the participants learned ways to elicit forthright yet respectful conversation about topics that are considered “difficult” for churched and non-churched people, such as confronting child abuse, forgiving the unforgivable, dealing with one’s past, or whether or not church is obsolete. The volunteers then rehearsed their task of facilitating table conversation, welcoming all the ideas and the people who might not otherwise enter a church or have a conversation with people who do.
Kristie Ewig said that she decided to help Father Larry Solan of St. Patrick Parish initiate the Lifetree Café concept in Colorado Springs because she found the approach of radical hospitality, fearless conversation, genuine humility and divine participation a meaningful way to make God’s presence relevant to real life. She first learned of the program when Father Solan presented it to St. Patrick’s Parish Council.
“I was impressed not only with the content of the Lifetree program, but to the exceptional quality of the videos that accompany the topics and provide the questions for discussion. I also liked that Lifetree is not a promotion of any particular church and/or doctrine,” Ewig said.
She said that it provides a place where people are free from judgment and where they can share their thoughts and doubts about topics that matter in people’s lives, and that it offered a brief amount of scripture, prayer, and a spiritual “aha” moment.
For Father Jim Klein, parochial administrator of St. Patrick, it all began with an experience he had during his first assignment in Parker.
“I was enjoying a Chipotle burrito and great Colorado weather with our business manager on the patio,” he said. A young man, seeing his clerical clothing, approached and seemed to want to try to trip him up with a particular Scripture passage.
“As God would have it, I just happened to have preached on that same Scripture at our morning mass!” Father Klein said. The young man was very surprised, and they invited him to join them. During subsequent visits to Chipotle, Father Klein and his coworkers were joined by several of the young man’s friends.
“The discussions were lively and it was a great opportunity to evangelize. When Father Larry briefed me on Lifetree Cafe, it immediately reminded me of those fruitful lunches in Parker,” Father Klein said.
“We took a trip up to Loveland to visit with the creators of Lifetree Cafe at Group Publishing,” said Father Klein. “During that visit they told us that many fallen-away Catholics have participated, and they felt like it would be similar in Colorado Springs. And Bishop Sheridan, at a diocesan leadership meeting, encouraged us priests to think outside the box with regard to evangelization.”
“Over the last decade, we began to see a divide increase between culture and our faith communities,” said Craig Cable, Publishing Director of Group Publishing and one of the creators of Lifetree Café. “As more people were leaving the institutional church, the opportunities for civil conversations about faith were becoming increasingly rare. Lifetree Café was born from a desire to create a safe place where people could come to talk about life and faith in a warm and inviting coffeehouse setting.”
Cable said he was delighted when Father Solan asked to carry the idea back to his parish in Colorado Springs.
“After our conversations with Father Larry, I just knew that St. Patrick Parish would be a perfect fit for the Lifetree Café ministry. Their genuine love for the community and strong desire to engage in spiritual conversations with believers and not-yet believers are the hallmarks of a successful Lifetree Café.”
“We found that Lifetree Café works in any size city (urban or rural), and with any group of people (young or old),” Cable said. “The content is the same regardless of where it’s hosted or who’s hosting it. Participants will essentially have the same Lifetree Café experience whether it’s hosted by a Catholic parish or a Protestant church. The church’s unique denominational nuances are more evident in the table conversations that occur during the one-hour host-led experience.”
As the only Catholic parish in the country to host Lifetree Café, Father Klein hopes that people both churched as well as unchurched will see this as an opportunity to meet others, discuss timely topics and to do so with a religious point of view.
“We hope to create a welcoming place,” said Ewig, “where people come together to share their thoughts and doubts in a respectful way, and ultimately to build bridges from people’s lives to spiritual truths.”
Information about Lifetree Café can be found at: www.lifetreecafe.com