For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Coffee Chaplaincy is a ministry to patients in the mental health wards at the hospital in Nambour, Queensland. Our teams of Coffee Chaplains visit the ward one morning a week to serve beautiful cappuccinos and designer coffees.
The coffee gives us a reason to be in the ward so that we can express our love and acceptance, placing value on both the patients and staff. We listen to their stories, and spend time with them. The coffee itself is an absolute treat, but the presence of our team is the bonus. One patient, when she saw us walking in, said, “The coffee people! My favourite people in the whole world!” Statistics published by the Mental Health Council of Australia show that one in five Australians experience a mental illness episode every year. Three out of ten episodes are severe. For teenagers and young adults it is as high as one in four. Very often, these people are ostracised by society because of misinformation and fear. As a result they feel unvalued, uncared for and forgotten. We hope to change that somewhat through our coffee chaplaincy.
We have been working in one ward now for eight months, and the hospital has embraced us – so much so that we have been asked to expand into a second ward. How did it all happen? Well, this kind of mission is easy to establish. We sought permission from the hospital executive; funding from Queensland Baptist Care allowed us to purchase a fully automated coffee machine and produce our team shirts; then, with a group of willing servants, we had all we needed to get going.
Next we are planning to link with a team from Brisbane called Group 61, who provide ‘buddies’ to people with mental illness living in the community. We plan to build relationships with patients while they’re in the ward, and then offer friendship and support once they are living outside in the community.
The needs of people with mental illness are neglected by most churches, simply because we don’t think of them. We make sure we have men’s ministries, women’s ministries, children’s and youth ministries – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but we forget about the particular needs of this group in our community. Recently, I spoke with a man who doesn’t like going to church because he feels awkward and out of place. He knows Jesus and wants to follow him yet, “There is no-one else there like me,” he says. Instead, he finds community and acceptance with bikers and others down at the pub. Our coffee chaplains overcome this barrier by bringing church to him.
All of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35-36 are encompassed in caring for people with mental illness. We need to go and meet them where they are, both geographically and mentally, and offer them love in practical ways.
Please be in touch if you’d like to know more. I’d be happy to speak to you about exploring a ministry along these lines in your church context.
Kevin Hamer is Associate Pastor at Nambour Baptist Church in Queensland. Contact him by phone on (07) 5441 1028 or 0411 365 787 or via email [email protected]