I’m breaking a pledge I made long ago by writing this. When I started this blog I said that I wasn’t going to review coffeehouses that had a religious origin. Coffeehouse culture is all about questioning things and rebelling. We all know how kindly religion typically takes to the idea of rebellion. When the first coffeehouses started up in Europe, they were hotbeds of the anticlerical and anti-monarchist thought that led to, well, pretty much every liberty that we enjoy today. Coffeehouses with a foundation in religion just tend to strike me as a little…off.
This coffeehouse is, however, the first that I’m reviewing following lockdown, and that’s because of what I saw when I walked through the door having no idea that their mission was a mission. What I saw was a lot of courage, a lot of heart, and a lot of openness. I arrived just as they were about to close, but I made it in time for the last scents of breakfast-to-go to waft under my nose. They had just reopened on May 18th and my mom and I had coincidentally wanted to take a ride to literally anywhere to get out of town for a change of scenery. This little alcove was a match made in road-trip heaven.
I didn’t even know that The Gathering Place was affiliated with a church until I saw the Ten Commandments hanging on the wall beside a big old-fashioned clock. The ladies behind the counter, Jenny and Patty, proudly explained to me that the coffeehouse is an extension of the Little Swatara Church of the Brethren. They were equally proud of the charity work being done by the institution during the outbreak (which is apparently quite a lot). Both the church and the coffeehouse are planted in the small but cozy community of Bethel, PA. Like many Pennsylvania towns, if you blink you miss it. It is, however, worth keeping your eyes open as you pass through this little village. A historical plaque greets visitors as they drive into a clean, vibrant little main street after exiting the frenetic I-78. Bethel is in the middle of nowhere, on the way to everywhere.
The Gathering Place really does seem to be a gathering place for the community judging by the number of pamphlets and event posters plastered to the bulletin board. I’m hoping that at least some of that blur of planning will still take place sometime this year; Bethel seems like the kind of community that comes together if given even the slightest reason (and this coffeehouse is right in the middle of it), so I’d be willing to bet on them.
The coffee that was being served up was an odd but excellent brew. The staff assured me that it was just “regular coffee” like you’d find in “any diner” but there was a bit of modesty in that claim. It was a step above the metallic-tasting mass-produced coffee found in the average diner. It had seemingly been thrown together from a few different beans, but whoever did the throwing had some skill as evidenced by the vaguely-nutty taste of Arabian which was apparently moderated by something smooth. Colombian perhaps? It was kinda wild, in a good way! Talk about pooling your resources.
This visit was quite a welcome back for the Coffeehouse Tour. Things of course aren’t quite normal yet; the smiling faces of the staff were hidden behind masks for sanitation reasons. The hours were limited as well, but it’s clear that they are doing something very important. They’re fighting for this. They’re fighting for a return to the good life. They’re open because they can be. Talking about what we can’t do is and always has been useless. They get that. Pretty revolutionary if you think about it. To live, you have to live. Let’s get back to life together. Stay caffeinated and stay healthy, friends.