Not for the first time, LifeBridge Community Church saw a need in Dover, Ohio, and did something about it.
What used to be the Mennonite congregation’s foyer is now a coffeehouse, which will open to the public at some point in the next year.
Pastor Chet Miller-Eshleman said the project came about in response to continuing awareness that the town of about 12,000 had only one kind of option for people who wanted to be out and about in the evening.
“When my wife and I moved to the Dover community 11 years ago to found the church, we noticed the only thing open in the evening on the main thoroughfare was bars,” he said. “We all felt there ought to be an alternative to bars open in the evening.
“Tuscarawas County has one of the highest alcoholism rates in Ohio, and we’ve been working with people with substance abuse.”
The coffeehouse will be staffed by a paid manager and volunteers. It has been bestowed with the moniker “Doxology.”
“ ‘All praise to God.’ I think the simplest way to say it is many lives have been changed over the years,” Miller-Eshleman said. “We do a lot of work with substance abuse. Whether you come to the door as a believer or an agnostic or not really interested in a church experience, somehow in the LifeBridge family people have really opened up to a new life and found it in God.
“So for some people on the team it really captured what they wanted to express.”
With a local bakery closing in Dover almost six months ago, options for similar gathering spots have dried up.
Beyond filling that niche, the transformed foyer is also intended to reach people in the community and befriend them.
“When we share food, I believe it lowers the barriers we put in place,” said Susanna Strauss, a member of the team leading the effort. “. . . For several years I have felt there is a need for a safe, friendly environment for people who are alone or lonely.”
Beautiful old wood
Reaching out to the community is not a new goal for LifeBridge. The congregation has operated a thrift shop called Threads in the basement for some time, and the church sees potential for synergy between the projects.
Both endeavors reflect a philosophy of making the most use of items instead of tossing them out. The building itself was once a United Methodist church, built in 1900.
“When we took out the old Salvation Army stage in our auditorium, there were these charred wooden timbers,” Miller-Eshleman said. “We stacked them in the parking lot, and we would hear, ‘Get rid of those things.’ But a few of us said, ‘I wonder if we could rip them down.’
“Sure enough, it was beautiful wood. Those timbers are now the booths and the tables. We even took some spikes that bent up our saw blade, and you’ll see them in the glossy wood. This old foyer is quite attractive.”
The entire renovation project has taken place over a few years, with primary fundraising occurring within the congregation, in addition to a grant from Mennonite Church USA’s Ohio Mennonite Conference, of which LifeBridge is a member.
Though it’s approved by the health department but not open to the public yet, the coffeehouse is already being used by the congregation for Sunday morning coffee time and as a meeting place for groups.
The church is partnering with Hemisphere Coffee, a direct-trade organization that builds relationships with coffee farmers, to source its beans.
“The proceeds go toward helping church planting and helping to pull women out of sex slavery,” Miller-Eshleman said. “So that’s really appealing.”
Joseph Weaver, another member of the congregation involved in the project, said Hemisphere’s goals align neatly with LifeBridge’s by focusing on changing lives.
“Our hope is that every stage, from the growing of the bean to the careful preparation and enjoyment of the cup of coffee, is an opportunity to build community and give glory to God,” he said.