It was the morning of the Episcopal visitation. We all knew we would be gently chided about something. So we had painted the church, fixed the lights – this time it was going to be something else.
Trapped between a purple shirt and the morning tea table the hapless pewsitter found out what was next on the hit-list.
The Bishop picked up a tin with a well-known multinational label on it.
“You have to fix the coffee,” came the Episcopal command.
It was time to hit the phone and find a church that had already tackled the coffee issue. A few calls later and Heather McKay from St Luke’s, Liverpool assured me that proper coffee really is a spiritual issue.
“Bad coffee hinders fellowship,” she says. “Especially for newcomers.”
Heather has seen a newcomer throw a cup of ‘lukewarm brown coloured water’ on a pot plant. Their church is right on the mall, and people will stream away from church in search of something better.
“They are paying a fortune for coffee but not sticking around. Liverpool has bought a large percolator to dramatically improve their coffee. They are moving upmarket to Lavazza coffee; no half measures for them. They’ve taken advice from a church across town that has serious coffee experience, St Augustine’s, Neutral Bay.
“Six years ago I inherited four kilos of Pablo and International Roast,” says Neutral Bay’s senior minister Craig Roberts.
When they began brewing coffee at the back of the church in dripolators (the coffee makers with round glass beakers and a hot plate), there was a dramatic improvement. Instead of the church being empty 15 minutes after the meeting, people stayed for an hour “having conversations of varying significance” says Craig.
He trained welcomers and got the Sunday School to kick on longer to encourage the parents to talk.
Boiling water in glass flasks got too hard eventually for Neutral Bay. They tried liquefied instant coffee machines that gave a coffee “rated at 4.5 if instant is zero and plunger coffee is ten” says Craig.
It wasn’t quite good enough and they lost the inviting smell of the brew. Now they use percolators which Craig says is just as good as plunger coffee.
“It’s not espresso. but that’s when the coffee becomes important rather than the Lord Jesus” says the minister who the pewsitter suspects. would rather his parish gets a write up for something more serious than coffee.
But the prize for coffee central goes to Moore College for using coffee machines that grind beans on the spot.
Moore’s high volume means they get the machines for free. But Moore College’s head chef Warren Darwall knows he can’t win. There’s a steady stream of coffee freaks down Carillion Avenue to Campos coffee which draws judges and barristers as well as Moore students.
Which goes to warn the pewsitter that this generation of coffee-fussy bishops is not going to die out in a hurry.
The pewsitter’s next challenge – can the parish coffee be fair trade as well as tasty before the bishop’s next visit?