BRADENTON -- The Rev. Bruce McEwen knows the busy lives folks have might mean they aren't able to get to church.
He's been part of motorcycle ministries, riding Harleys from bar to bar to spread the gospel and in theaters helping actors find faith. Now the Illinois native is praying that a cup of coffee can stir up some compassion in his community.
"I've talked to several people who have no problem talking about God, but they just don't want to do it in a church," McEwen said. "So a coffee house is a perfect setting to be able to have that openness and hopefully reach some people that wouldn't normal
ly be in church."
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McEwen is planning to open Sacred Ground Coffee House inside Braden River Plaza, 4650 State Route 64, to serve as a place for faith, food and a place where religion is sprinkled in with the beans. He is targeting a May 10 opening date with hours planned to be 7:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and closed on Sundays.
The McEwens came here four years ago from Illinois to take care of the six-member Palmetto Church of the Nazarene.
"We built it up to 35, 40 and the area just wasn't conducive to growth," he said. So, the church that's been in Palmetto since 1954 decided to close. The Church of the Nazarene sold to Crossroads Christian Church for $280,000 on Jan. 14, according to property records, and used proceeds to buy the 1,200-square-foot space.
"We've actually sold the church, taking the money and opening a coffee house and putting the other money to build a new church east of I-75," he said. The goal is to do that in three to five years, but it will likely take 10 years, he said.
So, instead gatherings will be held at Sacred Grounds during the week where one paid employee will manage the shop that is expected to be staffed with volunteers, including Bob and Renee McEwen. (The coffee shop is not related to Sacred Grounds Coffee House in Tampa.)
"Our hope is to have people like Habitat For Humanity come in to work a week or a weekend, and the money that we make that month would be donated to that charity," he said.
The religious tones will be softened somewhat in the art on the walls, but the messages will still come across in places like Scripture Tea, McEwen said. He knows from experience living in Roxana, Ill., outside of St. Louis, where he operated a motorcycle ministry.
"We're not going to hold a Bible over their head because for 12 years I rode around with motorcycle guys from bar to bar, so I know what not to say and when to say it," he said. "You learn how to approach it."
To that end, the McEwens and his congregation believe in inclusivity, passing lifestyle choices to be handled by the Holy Ghost.
Until the shop opens, they have a lot to do to transform the corner unit beside a courtyard at Braden River Plaza. Donated furniture and cabinets are stacked in the space while tile work is being done in the rear. Stacks of Sacred Ground-branded merchandise and water are in the corner waiting to be organized.
The McEwens traveled to Tampa where a company called Sips Espresso Service Supply put them through barrista training. His wife, Renee McEwen couldn't wait to make a salted caramel macchiato during the daylong training.
Renee McEwen said making espressos certainly took patience, as well as precision> Now she can't wait to get behind the counter. Bob McEwen said what he envisions is an experience with the coffee.
"Maybe if there's 10 people waiting in line, we won't take you behind the experience, or everyone could listen in," Bob McEwen said, laughing.
But when you grab your cup of Joe, hopefully there's a little extra involved.
"Join us and experience more than coffee," he said.
For more information, call 941-405-2075.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.