Parishes, schools and agencies

Coffee helps to brew 'a culture of celebrating God's goodness'

By Rachael Lopez

March 1 2020

“In Melbourne, most people drink it, most people love it. It’s more than just a drink; it’s a social experience, it’s a big part of feeling at home for a lot of inner city Melbournians,” says the Revd Pete Greenwood, pastor of Inner West Church, an Authorised Congregation within the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne. 

Melbourne is the coffee capital of Australia, with the highest number of cafés and restaurants per capita of any city in the world. So with café culture omnipresent in Melbourne, it is no wonder that churches have been thinking about how coffee can intersect with their mission. 

Once condemned by clergy and referred to as the “bitter invention of Satan”, we can thank Pope Clement for blessing the coffee bean in the early 1600s. Upon sipping the coffee, legend has it that he declared: “This Satan's drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.” 

Pete Greenwood’s theology of good coffee goes beyond the fear of missing out: “It starts with creating a culture of celebrating God’s goodness, celebrating his gifts and being hospitable to the stranger. All those really strong profound biblical concepts.” This has influenced how the church welcomes people, with the smell of freshly brewed coffee.  

While Inner West Church started off with simple plunger coffee, it soon upgraded to a drip coffee machine. From theology to technique, Pete has it covered. “It’s like an American-style drip machine except that it’s fully temperature controlled to prevent the coffee burning. In cafés it’s called a batch brew.” 

The church sources its coffee beans from local roaster Rumble Coffee, which has led to a great opportunity to connect with the community. The roastery sponsored the church's last two Christmas carols services, providing free coffee. Many churches want to have ethical coffee, but there are more options than just the Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance labels. Rumble Coffee began the Transparency Project and regularly visits countries-of-origin to assess the local conditions and build relationships with farmers. It pays 25 per cent higher to the coffee farmers than Fairtrade, and releases a transparency report each financial year. Pete encourages churches to support their local roasters and to enquire about how transparent their production pathway is. “The great thing in Melbourne is, there’s probably a roastery near every Anglican Church.” 

St Peter’s Eastern Hill is an Anglican church on a major intersection in the city, close to Parliament Station, with thousands walking past each day. However, for many years it didn’t have a strong presence on the street as it was cloistered in by a hedge. Soon after the Revd Dr Hugh Kempster arrived at St Peter’s, he began dreaming with parishioners about the church’s future direction. 

After 25 years of making breakfast for the homeless with the Lazarus Centre, the church decided to expand its work to a social enterprise, offering job training and volunteer opportunities.  

“We’ve been giving a hand out and we wanted a way to give a hand up,” Hugh said. 

After battling the council to remove the hedge, the coffee cart Heaven at the Hill was born, with its grand opening in November last year. The cart’s full-time barista is busy helping city workers start their day caffeinated, and also trains vulnerable people in the art of coffee making. As well as helping the homeless in the city, the church also supports the Judy Lazarus Transition Centre, for people who are about to be released from prison.   

Anglicans around Melbourne are embracing their city’s coffee culture while being thoughtful about the ethical and environmental impact. St Paul’s Cathedral had a pop-up café at last year’s Synod, with a gold coin donation to Edvance Aid which supports local villages in Papua New Guinea, including local Anglican churches and schools. The coffee brand that was used, With One Bean, works directly with coffee communities in Timor-Leste to improve their livelihoods, while also paying higher than Fairtrade prices. As well as using washable mugs, With One Bean plants a tree for every kilo of coffee that it roasts, with 15 trees planted through the 900 coffees made for Synod members. 

Pete Greenwood was impressed with the care of the diocese in helping everyone get through such heavy meetings: “Not only is that a really lovely thing to have the coffee cart, but the people they picked to do it were legitimately good at what they do.”

 Read about how St Peter’s Eastern Hill is supporting vulnerable people during the coronavirus pandemic here