Dear Brother Who Takes Coffee Into The Sanctuary

My church has a large narthex, and before and after worship it is full of cheerful parishioners sippin' on coffee and chatting up a storm. To those who are into glad-handing and back-slapping, which I am, it's a great time.

But as much chatting as I might do, nothing stops me from first things first. I beeline for the coffee, which is the best church coffee I've ever tasted. Once my cup is full, the loving on others can begin. Many others feel the same, as the line at the coffee dispenser attests.

By the dispenser is a sign that says "Please No Food or Drink In Sanctuary".

Every Sunday many come in to the worship service with travel cups full of coffee. Always travel cups, of course, because that way there will be no spill.

It is possible, since this happens at my church, that you are reading this and we are fellow worshipers and friends. You might be offended by what I'm about to write, but I hope you aren't.

You are far from unique. This behavior is ubiquitous. And I'm not talking about the cool hip- or mega-churches with movie theater seating and JesusBucks coffee shops in the hallways. Most evangelical Christians would consider the church I'm at a slightly traditional one in worship format. It is certainly very Presbyterian. My old church was very traditional, with robes and psalms and everything. And the coffee cups were snuck under the pews there as well.

I'm not here to call you wicked. I'm here to ask you to consider the significance of coffee in the sanctuary.

What are we doing in worship? Are we gathering as one body to worship the King of Heaven and Earth in his very throne room? Or are we attending an interesting lecture?

The people pictured below are having a meeting. They're taking notes, they're making suggestions, they're paying close attention to the information being disbursed. There's a cup of coffee at hand, the owner of which takes periodic thoughtful sips as the meeting progresses.

You are not at a meeting.

Everything every thing we do has significance. It all means something, all says something. The clothes you wear at home, at work, at church, say something. The food you choose to eat says something. The way you decorate your home or tidy your desk says something. It all speaks.

I pray to God that we never all say the same thing all the time. I'm not asking you to be like me. I am asking you to consider what you are saying when you take a cup of coffee into the sanctuary.

I believe that it tells the Lord and yourself that you are here to watch. You are a spectator. You've come to hear a particular speaker. Perhaps you even pull out a notebook and jot down some notes. But you are not here to participate.

But, you say, you do participate. You rise to sing with the rest of us, and you share the Lord's table with us. And so you do, and you are indeed participating. But again, consider the message. You are cueing yourself to think like a spectator. Other parts of you naturally fight that, and that is excellent. But perhaps that coffee cup is a barrier between you and me.

If we are indeed worshiping together, if we are battering down the gates of hell, if we are offering an incense of praise to God, and doing it together, why the coffee cup?

If we were at basketball practice together, and you kept a coffee cup close at hand all the time, I'd be concerned that your mind wasn't on what we were doing. More accurately, if you rolled up to the pre-match huddle sippin' on some joe, then carefully stashing it beneath the bench, I'd not be filled with confidence in your mental presence.

Does that mean that I need you to not to bring in coffee in order for me to worship rightly? Of course not. 

But we are doing something together here. We are not watching. We are doing. As a people, as an army. Worship is a mission (for the papist this is easy to see: from mass to misa to mitere and mission). It will do you some good to tell your mind and body that you're in it all the way. When we stand, don't be caught having to put down your cup. When we raise our hands, the same. When we kneel also.

Participate fully. Even in the lecture part of church. It is, after all, no lecture, no self-improvement talk. It is your very self being cut up by a sharp sword to be laid on the altar of God. And when you ascend as smoke from a burnt offering, you might not want to be holding a Starbucks travel cup.


  1. Good point, Joffre. I would add that there casual sipping is far too ubiquitous these days. Humans simply do not need to carry beverages with them at all church or anywhere. Drinks at work, drinks at school, drinks for the drive, to-go cups when you leave a restaurant, parties! always sipping something. Why are we so thirsty? What happened in the past fifteen to twenty years that everyone is entitled to a constant flow of liquids? I used to be able to go HOURS without any drink at all. Now? At 30 minutes I'm looking for something to sip.

  2. If it helps you be kind to others and keep you more attuned to the service what is the problem? It seems like we should all be stoked to be there and AS if not MORE than being at a lecture/meeting. You ARE listening to a Pastor, you are not playing basket ball. If everyone showed up expecting to "play ball" I think It would be more chaotic than you think, and maybe that's what you want. If coffee helps you focus, I say drink coffee. If coffee is a distraction then it is a problem. I think what you are saying is you want people to be stoked about what they are doing. I agree that having people zoned out is not cool, and you want people engaged with the service. I think that excitement should come from the heart and not from a outward form, such as not bringing coffee into the sanctuary.

  3. The King of heaven and earth in his heavly throne room? I think not. Its a building made by man. God does not dwell there. We the people are Gods church. The pastor hopefully lead by the Spirit is giving a lecture. As Gods church we need to worship more so outside of Sunday. There is nothing holy is sacred about the building or Saturday;).

  4. besides which: you were asked not to

  5. This is a blip of what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say about the word liturgy:

    "Liturgy (leitourgia) is a Greek composite word meaning originally a public duty, a service to the state undertaken by a citizen. Its elements are leitos (from leos = laos, people) meaning public, and ergo (obsolete in the present stem, used in future erxo, etc.), to do. From this we have leitourgos, "a man who performs a public duty", "a public servant", often used as equivalent to the Roman lictor; then leitourgeo, "to do such a duty", leitourgema, its performance, and leitourgia, the public duty itself."

    I think it applies on the subject matter. Put that in your pot and let it stew.


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