New Lifetree Cafés being planted in Eastern PA

By John W. Coleman

The Eastern PA Conference will soon celebrate the planting of a fourth Lifetree Café, this one by St. John’s UMC Ivyland; and the opening night’s video and discussion will focus on a timely topic: “The Church and Gays: One Pastor’s Dilemma.”

The new Café will have its debut on Tuesday, June 6, at 7 PM at the Richboro Pub, 1034 2nd St. Pike #5, Richboro, PA, near Warminster, not far from the church. Church members will welcome guests there every Tuesday night at 7:30 for food, fellowship and faith-based discourse. See the new Lifetree Cafe Richboro Website.

Lifetree Café is an innovative, Christian, national program that resources a network of church-run Cafés, preferably located in private areas of restaurants and pubs. That resourcing includes providing materials like the well-produced, weekly discussion video that is shown in all locations.

Thus, St. John’s did not select their opening night’s topic. It was already on the Lifetree Café schedule for that week. Subsequent weeks will feature video-aided discussions on hoarding “stuff,” making peace with imperfect parents and communicating with pets.

Led by the Rev. Janice Puliti, pastor, and Ruth Portzline, Director of Community Outreach, church leaders have been planning this new venture, recruiting volunteers, making arrangements and building congregational support since they attended two orientation meetings months ago.

“We know there are lots of people outside our doors who are unchurched; so some of our people are excited about this effort,” said Portzline. She admitted, however, that some older members, concerned about the use of a pub for this outreach venture, have asked, “Are you sure about this?”

”Whether it leads to new members at St. John’s doesn’t matter,” she added. “If we can help people develop a new relationship with Jesus Christ then we will have succeeded.”

The Rev. Gordon Hendrickson, Conference Coordinator of Congregational Development, offers orientation meetings at the Eastern PA Conference Office every few months for churches that are interested in exploring or starting a Lifetree Café outreach ministry. Contact him at gordonacts6@gmail.com or 267-258-9507. The next meetings will be July 10 and 24, from 6:30 to 8 PM.

The conference’s third Lifetree Café, following two in Lititz and Lebanon, opened in March at the new Helping Hands Community Center in Parryville, a ministry of Saint Peter’s UMC in nearby Emerald. The welcoming fellowship and the always interesting, often inspiring tabletop discussions over snacks happens there on Saturdays at 5 PM for just over an hour.

Pam Snyder, a Certified Lay Minister like Portzline, facilitates most of the video-assisted discussions, while the Rev. William Ritzenthaler, Saint Peter’s UMC pastor, oversees various activities of the church-run community center. Coming soon is an open mic night for music and spoken word, as the center tries to become a popular gathering spot for neighbors–both church members and nonmembers—throughout the week.

The friendly, guided conversations at weekly Lifetree Café sites cover topics that can be heavy or lighthearted, often generating keen insights about life, values and faith.

The Lititz Lifetree Café that meets on Mondays at 7 PM. at the General Sutter Inn, tackled “Police Brutality or Necessary Force” on Feb. 27, another timely topic in the wake of recent police shootings of black citizens. A Lititz police detective joined those discussions to listen and provide his insights.

Since then, the group, led by Lititz pastors the Rev. Jason Perkowski and the Rev. Jerry McGrath, along with an ecumenical group of laity, has explored topics ranging from having a healthy approach to body image, to “The Nature of God and His Relationship with Humanity,” based on the recent film “The Shack.”

“People today want to participate in the conversation,” says National Lifetree Café co-founder Thom Schultz. “It’s not enough to simply hear someone lecture on an important topic. People want to share their thoughts, ask questions, and tell their own stories. Lifetree offers a safe place and time to do that.

Lifetree Cafés offer a chance for people who may otherwise feel alone to experience a sense of community. One regular attendee at the Lititz Café was caring for a seriously ill spouse. He said he looked forward to Monday nights as the one time during the week when he could come out, be off-duty, and enjoy time with new friends.

 “Lifetree Cafés allow Christians to connect with people outside the walls of the church around topics that profoundly impact people,” said Perkowski. “This is where the rubber meets the road—and hopefully where the community meets Jesus.”  Learn more…