Work will begin this spring to renovate a former Veterans of Foreign Wars hall beside the South Platte River and along a popular bike path in Denver, Colo., into a meeting space for The Table, a Christian Reformed ministry community.
But the space in the one-time VFW hall won’t include a platform for preaching, a place for the choir, or rows of chairs for people to sit during a service.
Instead, there will be a coffee bar, a tap room, and a commercial kitchen for educational classes on cooking and healthy eating. That area will also be used to prepare food for gatherings.
“This is a new beginning for the way we will function in the future. It is unexpected, but God has brought us to this place,” said Jeanine Kopaska Broek, who founded The Table in 2012 with her husband, Craig.
Resonate Global Mission has supported the work of The Table. And now, having raised some $460,000 in donations and pledges from a range of sources, including area businesses, The Table is well on its way to raising the $600,000 needed to pay for the renovations to VFW hall.
A grant of $10,000 from Ignite, the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s initiative to fund innovative ministries, is helping to pay to construct the coffee bar.
From the start, The Table has been a nontraditional ministry community. It calls itself an urban farm, and its focus all along has been to gather people from the Platte Park neighborhood and nearby areas in southwestern Denver who want to help plant and harvest food, mostly in front- and side-yard garden plots donated for that purpose by local residents.
The growers have distributed their produce free of charge to schools, in parks, and in other settings. In addition, they meet to share meals and have conversations on a range of topics.
People who have been drawn to The Table are generally not regular churchgoers or even believers. Rather, they have been attracted by the chance to help plant and harvest vegetables and fruit for the local community and then to spend time together.
“The Table is not just about food, but about life,” said Rev. Craig Broek, who served a church in New Jersey before he and his wife moved west to start work in Denver. “We do church in nonchurchy ways. We bring in the divine in ordinary ways.”
The new coffee shop/tap house/food education initiative enables them to have a public and permanent presence as well as extend hospitality and educational opportunities to their neighbors in a brand-new way. “It will provide us access to the community on a daily basis throughout the year, something we have never had before,” he said.
For several years, people have met in various locations on Sunday evenings for a meal and to discuss a topic. During the week, they have also met, often in the Broeks’ home and in the homes of others, for soup or another kind of meal.
Increasingly, and yet without compulsion, during the Sunday-evening gatherings people began to take part in communion.
Early on, Ryan Hammons was interested primarily in helping to grow food in the garden plots donated by local residents. But, over time, he saw something in the Broeks — a sense of giving, a kindness, a keen willingness to share — that made him wonder if they had a deeper motivation behind what they did.
“This was a new thing, and it really appealed to me,” said Hammons. “They weren’t trying so hard to say, ‘Come and join us,’ or to put pressure on us.”
While they do speak about matters of faith, mostly when they come up, the Broeks don’t evangelize in any traditional way. They keep their beliefs, which are strong, low profile because the people they have been trying to reach are those who live in their mostly upper-middle class neighborhood and who tend to go to the mountains on weekends, visit the local farmers’ market, or simply stay at home and rest after a busy workweek.
Visiting The Table gave Hammons a chance to get comfortable before moving into speaking about his faith, a difficult area because his experiences in formal church settings had been unsatisfying, he said.
“I have come to The Table for a few years, and very gently and subtly I have had the chance to ask questions about faith,” said Hammons, an environmental permit ecologist.
“Coming to The Table has given me good friends, and Craig gives us the space where you can freely talk about spirituality. It is a good place to be, to come and hang out. I know I have friends who have my back, and I have their back.”
Hammons, who lives in the area, has played a role in gathering support for the project to rehabilitate and furnish the VFW hall. There was a time when he wouldn’t have thought that having a permanent space was wise for a group whose focus was on being loose and open-ended.
But the Spirit seems to be moving The Table into a new home, a fixed place where people can come and take part in the various activities. It’s still not a church building, but the people making up The Table have become a church-like community.
In their new place, they will be able to get a business going — the coffee shop and tap room — and provide a kind of educational ministry in the back area for the community, while at the same time making money to help support The Table, said Hammons.
But, especially, it will be a permanent home for people connected to The Table to meet for meals, for Bible studies, for larger events, times of worship, neighborhood gatherings, to have one-on-one discussions, and different kinds of classes.
“The Holy Spirit is definitely in this — the way conversations flow. We share forgiveness, sorrow, and grace,” said Hammons.
The new space is located by the river near Grant Frontier Park, the site of a former gold mining town, Montana City, the first settlement in what is now the Denver area. Besides renovating the building, The Table plans to use outdoor space for a demonstration garden and a small greenhouse.
The property will also provide space to help store the produce they grow in neighborhood plots, and that will help to free up space in the Broeks’ home.
“We have been able to donate 30,000 pounds of food to people and groups in the area over the years — and most of that was kept [temporarily] in our kitchen,” said Jeanine Broek. “We’ll now have a place for it all to go before it gets distributed.”
Even though The Table will now have a permanent location, much of the gospel teaching and reflection will still take place in front yards and side yards, in those readily accessible and visible spaces where the food grows and Jeanine and Craig use the reality of creation to share messages about God.
Jeanine recalls getting into a conversation with a group of young people who visited one of the gardens. “The process of growing food gives you time to open up and talk about larger life questions,” she said. “I was pruning the tomatoes and explained how pruning is hard work. But if you don’t prune them, you end up with a mess of branches and very little fruit.”
They try to draw on biblical lessons in tangible ways, Jeanine said. For instance, she speaks of how growing and giving and taking and receiving food are acts of grace. “I talk about how in our work around food we exemplify honoring and preserving life.”
They talk about planting and tending and having patience for the plants to bear fruit. They talk about the gifts of water and land; they talk about using compost, things we might otherwise throw away, to enrich the soil and help things grow.
Jeanine looks forward to having a new place along the river and the bike path near the park. But she will still find joy that comes when she is out working in a garden and someone drives by, tapping their car horn in encouragement, or even pulls up to learn more about what she is doing and why.
“Certainly, there are a lot of brick and mortar churches in our area” that people can find and visit, she said. “But when they see a garden, they want to stop and talk to you. Out of a simple thing like a garden can come some major things,” she said, like conversations that can help people grow closer to God.