Merced County Times Newspaper
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Hope Coffee Grows Out Of Church Ministry

By ROBIN SHEPARD

Times Correspondent

At Hope Coffee, a large message above a wide doorway reads: “We love people through coffee.”

It’s the operating principal behind one of Atwater’s best kept secrets, a quiet and friendly place that combines coffee and conversation, and serves to build relationships between an all-volunteer staff and its customers.

But Hope Coffee is more than lattes and pastries. It’s more than the clean and attractive interior, the intimate sitting spaces, and soul-soothing sounds of music. It’s a mission-centered program of a church that has grown in membership and has invested in bringing the gospel message to a wider audience.

“It’s the perfect place to meet,” said Corky Schroeder, who with his friend Jeff Stopper enjoys a cup of coffee every Thursday morning.

“We come here and talk and it give us a chance to pray together,” he said.

Operating as a non-profit venture out of The Hope, a Church of God church located at 2100 W. Fruitland Avenue, across from Atwater High School, Hope Coffee is, according to community and life pastor Scott Speidel, an innovative vision of church leadership.

“Some of our folks wondered, ‘Can we really do this?’” he said. “But it’s become an article of faith now.”

Starting with an investment of about $100,000, an amount raised by church members, the coffee shop was designed and constructed in 2022 to look and feel like any similarly constructed mainstream corporate business, like Starbucks or Dutch Bros. Coffee.

There are no overt Christian messages, no symbols of the church, and no Bibles.

If you’re looking for a cinnamon sweet chai tea or a perfectly frothed cappuccino, this is the place, and you won’t know you’re in a church building. But, if you’re looking for something deeper to go with your morning joe, you’ll find it here too.

Stopper credits manager Shandy Tarkman, a 12-year veteran of the Starbucks chain, who brings her considerable skills to the job.

“Shandy does a great job of leading her team, and her focus is on getting to know the customers better,” he said.

“If someone is reluctant to come into a church, maybe they’ll come into a coffee shop,” Tarkman said. “We give them good customer service in a safe space. If they express an interest in the gospel, we can share our testimony.”

Last October, Tarkman said, the church baptized 22 new Christians, 11 of whom were first introduced to the church through the coffee shop.

“It’s all about making personal connections,” she said.

But it’s also about good coffee and teas supplied by Peet’s Coffee and exquisite artisan pastries baked by Myle’s Home Kitchen.

“She makes an awesome chocolate croissant and the ultimate chocolate chip cookie,” Tarkman said.

The menu includes brewed hot and cold coffee drinks, teas, frappes, and “fruit tea shakers.”

You’ll also find a featured beverage, The Black Tie, described as a “bold, juicy Baradi cold brew with a hint of chicory, layered over sweetened condensed milk and topped with a float of half-and-half for a marbled swirl of coffee-forward refreshment.”

Tedonna Taylor volunteers four hours a week in the coffee shop. After working many years at a Denny’s restaurant, the retired former waitress says her new gig is inspiring.

“I think God is moving people right and left now,” she said. “I came here to church two years ago, and I’ve been here ever since. Everyone I’ve come across has been so loving.”

Taylor points to other similar stories. Like the young man who was homeless with an apparent drug problem.

“I’d see him hanging outside the church,” she said. “I took him come coffee and we talked and prayed. Eventually, we were able to get him into a shelter, and today he’s clean and sober.”

Harold Kadach is a member of the church’s governing board. He says church membership has grown from about 60 members five years ago to about 200 today. New pastoral leadership was the key, along with the coffee shop ministry.

“We’ll continue to support Hope Coffee because it brings value to our ministry and advances our mission of spreading the good news,” he said.

For Taylor, Hope Coffee nourishes the body and soul.

“I feel the Holy Spirit moving here,” she said. “I’ve also grown spiritually.”

 

Hope Coffee is open daily during the summer from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. To see the entire menu and order online, go to www.thehope.live/coffeeshop.

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