Another place to meet.

Chris McDonnell Friday January 13th 2017


The Coffee House is a place where I not only find a drink and a croissant but also the convenience of a place to write. In so many ways it has replaced the pub as a meeting place, a stop-off point for anyone and everyone to pause a while over a hot coffee, read or have a chat.


Across the world, Coffee House names have become an integral part of the High Street, an international brand that is immediately recognised. In the late ‘Nineties, when my youngest daughter and her husband were living in Toronto we went to visit with them. Landing well after midnight, with baggage left at their Condo, my son-in-law took me on my first visit to Starbucks, it was half-past three, a good couple of hours before dawn!


Since then, the Coffee House has become common place, each with its own character, furnishings and specialities. Even though they are not quiet places, maybe in fact, because of it, they do provide a comfort zone where words arrive and stories develop.


Often an overheard phrase finds its way into something I am writing, sparks a movement, stimulates an idea, only to re-emerge in a poem or article phrase sometime later. I always carry a book to read and a notebook for writing with me, for they are part of what I do when I find a comfortable seat and order a Cappuccino.


A place to talk, to meet, take time to greet, rest after walking the shop floors in local streets, a time read reflect and write.


Those Parishes that have a Parish Hall where groups can gather after sharing the Eucharist are indeed fortunate. It raises the question as to whether or not community arises from Eucharistic sharing or does our Eucharist spring from the gathering we often call parish.


Either way, humans are gathering creatures, anxious to share in so many ways. It is natural for us to share with each other and, along with company, to eat and drink together. It’s what we do.


I have met a good many and varied people in the Coffee House, a passing nod of ten minutes conversation, unlikely to be repeated again, but informative and enjoyable while it lasted, a help on the way. The Staff who serve become familiar faces and, with frequent visits, have remembered names.


The history of the Coffee House goes back hundreds of years. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Coffee House was a well-established, cosmopolitan meeting place, not only for social exchange, but as a place where business might be conducted. The world-renowned London Stock Exchange started trading in Jonathan’s Coffee House in 1698 in the City. Other well-known establishments, such as Christies and Sotheby’s, developed from the Coffee House gathering of interested merchants and business men.


It is not uncommon nowadays for lap-tops to be set open on tables, with a tapping of keys heard between coffee sips and the person using it to be illuminated by the screen.


Apart from the convivial meeting place after the school run or an alcohol-free zone for a relaxing chat, they can also be places for serious exchange, for stories to be told and a time of careful listening. ‘Meet me for a coffee sometime soon’ can be another way of saying ‘I have something to say, will you listen with me?


So our journey goes on day by day, nourished by the Eucharist, our presence helps others with their problems and difficulties. Look around at the other tables the next time you are in a Coffee House, watch the expressions on the faces of those who sit and drink and talk, who stretch out a gentle hand in comfort to a friend, when friendship is about both laughing and crying together, sharing the load.


I have just received a new collection of poems by the young Irish poet, Kerrie O’Brien. One of them, entitled ‘Hemingway’ concludes with these lines,


“How could he be so close/ And I not know it-The worst time to search/ Whiteout, blizzard sleet/ I hadn’t eaten/ The hunger raw and persisting/ But he led me/ And right where he lived/ A café/ Rose star/ In the wilderness/ Warm jewel/ Run by an American woman/ Big hearted/ Who took me in/ And gave me a muffin/ Flooded with raspberry/ Bloodsweet, glittering, hot./ It then came/ A thudding chant/ Be still, still/ In the howling/ Have faith/ Just a little longer”


Maybe her last two lines ‘Have faith, Just a little longer’ form the core part of the Epiphany we are now living, when sharing the Eucharist, nattering in the parish hall or with strangers in the Coffee House, it is the daily expression of our being Christian.