This afternoon will be the sixth in an experiment in community office hours: inspired by colleagues such as Jeremy Nickel, I have been going to local cafes for an hour on Friday afternoons, inviting anyone who wishes to to drop by and talk. I solicited café suggestions from the congregation and chose a variety that weren’t chains and covered the core of the geographical area we serve. I published the list in the newsletter along with a column explaining what I was up to, and I also send a day-of reminder by e-mail, tweet and/or Facebook.

The first week, four people came by, and initial awkwardness quickly turned into a lively five-way conversation. When four o’clock arrived and I excused myself, the other four carried on talking. I walked to my car grinning happily. Nothing makes my day like a decaf nonfat mocha and an animated conversation among people who, for the most part,

had barely known each other an hour before. Community office hours as small group. Hm.

Other weeks, the number of church folks has varied from zero to three. One person couldn’t come by, but seeing on Facebook that I was in office hours, instant-messaged me. He was the only visitor that week. I was really glad we’d connected, since we were able to talk, via IM,about something important that was on his mind. Community office hours as pastoral care.

During two other sessions, no one visited intentionally, yet each time someone made a connection with me. One was a member of my congregation who often comes to that coffee shop and had no idea that I was going to be there; another was a member of another congregation whom I’ve met before. In both cases we chatted for a while, and the latter conversation was a deep, clearly much-needed pastoral care session. That raised an interesting question I hadn’t thought of before, because if he had come to my office specifically asking for pastoral care, I would have asked whether he’d talked to his own minister. In the café, it didn’t occur to me.

From church folks’ perspective, is this any different than having drop-in time in my office? I can’t be sure, but it seems so. Since my arrival at UUCPA ten years ago, I haven’t held drop-in office hours, but simply invite people to drop by any day I’m at church, while encouraging them to make an appointment ahead of time in case I’m in one of my many meetings. I think people are coming by the café who would not have come to my office (they certainly never have before). I’ve certainly gotten more drop-in visitors in the cafés than I do in my office in a typical week, driven, most likely, by the informality of the setting. It’s not a pastoral visit, right? We’re just having a cup of coffee. It opens up possibilities. I wonder if people will be more likely to invite a friend from outside UUCPA, something that hasn’t happened yet. Community office hours as outreach.

Some colleagues wear a collar to let everyone know that a minister is in the house. Since I’m not doing that, there’s nothing to tell others in the café that the people at our table share a spiritual community, other than the content of our conversation. I wonder whether we will eventually become known as a fixture and people will begin to realize what we’re doing there. Like everything else about this experiment, it’s something I’m just watching as it unfolds.

We are venturing in various ways into serving the wider community, shifting our inward focus on self-identified UUs to a mission-driven outreach to everyone who might need us. Perhaps this will become a small but key part of that shift.

If you’re on the San Francisco Peninsula, come on by, 3-4 any Friday:

1st Friday Café Borrone, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park (next to Kepler’s Books)

2nd Friday Printer’s Café, 320 S. California Avenue, Palo Alto

3rd Friday Dana Street Roasting Company, 744 W. Dana St., Mountain View

4th Friday Café Zoe, 929 Menalto Ave, Menlo Park

5th Friday Palo Alto Café, 2675 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto