Lifetree Café Fosters Community, Conversation and God’s Unconditional Love

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Lifetree 1 235 Oakdale Park CRC Senior Pastor Emmett Harrison and Lisa Ayers discuss how their parents raised them.Laid-back and non-confrontational, the Lifetree Café that meets Wednesday nights at Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church in Southeast Grand Rapids is intended for people who likely would not hunker down in a church pew and listen to a minister drone out a sermon.

Instead, a Lifetree Café meeting offers people an opportunity to watch a video or PowerPoint presentation about a current affairs topic and discuss their viewpoints about it while sipping a cup of coffee and munching on a snack. No one at these meeting criticizes another person's point of view or waves a judgmental finger.

Welcome to a conversational café

That why Lifetree Cafes are known as a conversational cafés intended to foster a community where people experience God's unconditional love, grace and acceptance.

Lifetree cutline No. 2 A Lifetree Café meeting includes video clips on a specific topic and lively discussion."This is an environment for people who may not come to a Bible study," said Rev. Emmett Harrison, senior pastor of Oakdale Park CRC, who alternates as a Lifetree Café host with Julie Veeneman. "This is an opportunity to gather around and discuss today's issues and how they impact our lives and how Lord might be in all that."

During a recent Lifetree conversation, the topic focused on prison sentencing and justice. The hour-and-a-half meeting was interspersed with video clips and PowerPoint conversation starters, dialogue and prayer.

At the meeting, attendees discussed if they believed the United States collectively was too tough on crime or not enough; if they believed their parents were strict disciplinarians; whether Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Arizona is hard-hitting on crime or a violator of human rights; and whether the nation's prisons are accomplishing their intended purpose.

Future topics in the offing include taking God to work and making peace with your past.

Listen, not argue

"You will be listened to and we will not argue with you," host Veeneman assured the handful of people who attended a recent Wednesday night. "God is here ready to connect with you in a fresh way."

Lifetree cutline No. 3 Lisa Ayers makes a point about the nation’s prison system."Lifetree is where people take everyday, ordinary situations, things that are in the news, and we discuss how to give us hope," Veeneman said before the café meeting started. "It's the idea people are going to talk about these topics anyway so this gives them an opportunity to say where you are (with the topic) and where somebody else is."

Lifetree Cafes can be found around the nation. Most are intentionally not held in a church building, said Harrison. To find a Lifetree Café in your area, click here:

Launched by Group Publishing

Lifetree Cafes were launched by Loveland, Colo.-based Group Publishing, which produces ministry resources for children, women, youth, adult and pastors with the aim of helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus and one another other.

Free of judgment

Lifetree Cafés are places where people are free from judgment as they express their ideas, doubts and fears, said Veeneman. Scripture, prayer and a spiritual "aha" in a casual meeting that is not draped in a traditional Christian setting is what people will find and experience.

That aspect of the Lifetree Café at Oakdale CRC is what appealed to first-time attendee Lisa Ayers.

"I like the fact this is an opportunity to share the experiences I've had that maybe others haven't," Ayers said. "I don't know of any other place that's around that's available to share ideas without arguing with anybody."

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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