When he arrived in Kirkwood, a St. Louis suburb, he found a church that knew its days could be numbered but did not want to give up yet. That realism, he said, helped the church make changes before it was too late.
Selling the building was hard but brought a sense of freedom, said Eileen Schmitz, a longtime church member and lay leader. Before the sale, the church felt trapped, she said.
“The church had become all about survival,” she said. “And I just didn’t feel good about that.”
Selling the building gave the church and its pastors some breathing room.
The congregation, which had fewer than 40 people, kept both Wible and the church’s associate pastor on staff, paying for them to get training in how to revitalize a church as well as job training to become bi-vocational. Today, Wible works at an employee assistance company where Schmitz is one of the leaders. That job, he said, pays the bills but also gives him the freedom to help out at the church and Teleo.
The church also changed its name to Embrace Church, rented some new space and began meeting for dinner church, a worship service centered around a meal.
COVID-19 put that approach on hold, forcing the church to move online. In mid-November, the church held its first dinner church since 2020.
“There’s nothing else like sharing a sacred meal with our church family, and it’s been nearly three years since we’ve been able to do it in this way,” said Wible. “We got to engage with the abundant generosity of God through the parable of the sower as well as through the hospitality of one another.”
While inspired by faith, Teleo Coffee has few outward signs of its partnership with Embrace Church or its Christian roots. Rather than a Christian-branded coffeehouse, Tischel said she wanted to run a business that lives out its faith in practice.
For her, that has meant using local suppliers, like Bridge Bread, a bakery that helps people who had been homeless get off the streets, and the Switch Coffee Collective, a coffee roaster that helps employ people who had been incarcerated. The coffee house will also host a training program for students with special needs — something Embrace Church has long hoped to be part of.
The shop has won kudos for its environment — located in a converted house, the coffee shop is known as being kid-friendly — and its tasty treats and innovative menu, which features “coffee flights” that allow patrons to sample several different brews at the same time.
Kindness also is a hallmark of the shop, said Tischler. That means small things like remembering people’s names and favorite drinks and being genuinely interested in them.
“We make everyone feel known and loved when they walk into the shop,” she said.
While there’s no branding about Embrace’s partnership with Tischler, church members are often at the shop for special events and other happenings.
“That’s part of the big experiment,” said Schmitz. “Can we be Christians without putting a big cross on the building? I think we are still working through that.”
This article originally appeared here.