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It's amazing how fast this "free" time unemployment has left me fills up.

My mom's current project has really turned into my current project, too. Maybe it could pan out into a job. Who knows? But...here's the vision.

Location: Downtown Austin.
Market: 30-somethings, downtown entertainment seekers, people who don't want church but DO want that elusive "meaning."
Concept: Part coffee house, part bookstore/gift shop, part Austin-centric art gallery, part rentable space/music venue, part community-building enterprise.

That's a lot of parts, but they all feed into each other. The vision is a non-profit devoted to building community in Austin. The core business is a place to buy gifties and sandwiches and books. Pretty stable business platform. Mom's been running this sort of thing for years now. The "Part Two" is the idea of providing space for book groups, dancing workshops, lectures, seminary student classes, musical performances, open mic readings.

The "Part Three" is a concept I'm still learning called "The Emergent Church." This is DIY spirituality, assembling spiritual meaning outside of the chapel. Maybe it's not Christian (if I'm involved, it's going to have to be religiously open). Like the UU church, a place to ask questions, have conversations, and find your own meaning.

Can it work? Yes, I think so. Can it be a roaring success? I don't know. I'm not sure how the "Emergent Church" factor will play in.

I've had a very strange conversation with the minister at First Baptist about this...a round-table discussion with two priests, two churchy volunteer types, my Seminary grad mother, and myself as the token agnostic-pagan. It was an odd group...but a very positive one. Church is changing, even disintergrating, but people still need community and meaning.

What are the hurdles? Money, volunteers, community. Money is the hardest one, but there are ways around this. Volunteers...it won't take that many, maybe a core of 30 or so to keep things moving, and another 30 or so that show up to help with concerts and lectures. Not hard. Community, well, that's a challenge. A lot of people will have to want to be involved, even in a so-so way.

I'm seeing outdoor church services, an interfaith podcast from Austin, room space for pagan groups (because dammit, those are my people :), bellydancers and drum circles on the veranda once I figure out what a veranda is, and long theological conversations with strangers on Sundays.

Can I get a job doing this, and scrape together the pittance I need to keep a roof over my head? Possibly. Will I have insurance? Eh...maybe. As it is, my scatterbrain skills in marketing are coming in remarkably handy, and I'm learning a lot, and contributing a lot. But on the other paw, I can't afford to do this much longer.

Anyway...the ask, because it was coming--would anybody be interested in the un-church, lots of coffee and croissants, and conversation-time with no religious strings attached? The more of my friends I have with me when this starts (not as volunteers, even, just as people interested in this sort of environment) the better. The core group is going to shape the theology of the overall group, and I want an open theology, with sexy dancing Buddhists and convivial athiests (I'd have thought that was a contradiction in terms, except that I share a bed with one).

Who knows when this will happen. Maybe september. That seems likely, if it does happen. It's a good vision, I'm thinking it's an actual workable business, with a very little bit of sponsorship from angels and corporations. In the meantime, the challenges of proto-business are a lot of fun, even if they don't leave me enough time to keep caught up on Life, the Universe, and Everything.



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 14th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
I'd be totally interested in something like that. After the recent reverend explosion over at UU, I got a bit burned out on church politics again (though admittedly, it doesn't take much). It'd be nice just to have a place to be.
Jan. 14th, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC)
It's very hard to escape church politics...just whereever you go, worship-wise, there it is, even in synagogs. *sigh* We've had politics on this project, too, but it was front-loaded idea theft, not so much with the visible politik stuff. I'll keep you informed, and may tuck your name into the list of interested friends when I start assembling names.
Jan. 14th, 2009 10:50 pm (UTC)
I'm not quite as convivial an atheist as the one you share a bed with, but I'm interested in the idea, at least. Coffee-and-intelligent-conversation is always welcome. Keep me posted.
Jan. 14th, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
*has to go look up convivial*

I thought it meant gregarious, but it means, more or less, fond of banquets and good company. I THINK Josef's more of a banquet person than you, but...anyway, yes, I'll let you know what's going on when, if anything DOES go on. I'd hoped you'd express interest in this one, if it lurches off the ground.

I'm rapidly developing love for Visio, on a not-unrelated note.
Jan. 15th, 2009 04:38 am (UTC)
"Can I get a job doing this, and scrape together the pittance I need to keep a roof over my head?"

Don't expect it to, initially. The first thing you need to be sure of is that it can work, and then you essentially come up with a business plan. Even 501(c)3s need them. And once it gets big enough, you may very well be able to get a salary for being a full-time organizer for the project. Just don't be surprised if you operate at a loss for a while, most businesses do.

As far as non-profits go, this is a very compelling idea. I'm not so sure about the spiritual aspect of it, but then, that's how I am. In terms of providing an open space and a forum for creativity, community, and discussion, though, you've definitely got my support. As for the emergent religion, I think that if you create the venue for open discussion, those people who are fascinated by such things will inevitably go down that path.

If you do go ahead with this whatever skills I have in terms of crafting proposals, plans, grant applications, press releases, etc, are at your disposal. This is really something that I would like to see work. :)
Jan. 15th, 2009 01:16 pm (UTC)
That's wonderful to hear, thank you, Chance.

So far as business plans go...my fingerprints are all over the bylaws, and mom and I spent a good two months working on the business plan. We're still planning and scripting out the next several months.

One thought is that, since it's a NPO, the two executives are trying to gather donations to keep the business afloat for a two-year run, and then evaluate their success. Part of that is raising money for three salaries--two executives, and one full-time staffer. There's a good chance that the full-time staff job is mine if I ask for it, though there's a small element of nepotism there. If the business suceeds in a big way, it's likely I can get into an executive position fairly quickly. We will definately need press release help--I can provide you with the business plan if you want to review it.
Jan. 15th, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
I did do some forecasting based on the sales of the coffee shop mom and bookstore mom currently runs. The finances we get from event space rental are a big unknown, and we can only guess at the business's growth over time, but we're thinking that it's likely we'll start to break even by about the beginning of year three.

Anyway, we've been doing some round-tables, primarily with church leaders, because they've got the largest access to possible contact lists. The next time we're planning an event that's a little more balanced than purely priests, I'll drop you a note.
Jan. 15th, 2009 04:54 am (UTC)
Probably unrelated, but I noticed your call about ten minutes ago. I'm too polite to call back at this hour. E-mail me at my gafri address if it's important, if not, I'll try to remember to call you after work tomorrow.
Jan. 15th, 2009 02:01 pm (UTC)
Note: Interest and curiosity
Jan. 15th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
Noted :) I'll post updates as I have them, but it's all still "WIP" right now...
Jan. 15th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
I don't think you'll find a whole lot of people outside of the UU church in Austin who are searching for "meaning" but not organized religion. The rest of the business model sounds fine, but the DIY spirituality stuff is going to drive people away from the sandwich shop.

I'd focus on the sandwiches, honestly. Make good sandwiches and a community will develop. Religion's just going to drive people away.
Jan. 15th, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure about that--the mainstream religions really are crumbling at the edges, and there's a couple of other communities like this one that have taken off. Religion/spirituality without the baggage of church is one of the current boom trends in religion right now (see wikipedia for concept stuff.

Religion isn't going to die, but it's evolving in a post-postmodern world into something more decentralized. This is a trend that's leaching a lot of people out of the megachurches and into small circles in living rooms. This may not be the bold new face of religion, but it's a trend that's sapping the evangelical ego-temples.

Besides, what's one more coffee shop? There's a thousand of them. However, the religion aspect does need to be handled carefully--the group I'm working with doesn't want to convert people, just provide a space where religious/spiritual discussion is possible (even if as one of a number of options).
Jan. 17th, 2009 11:05 pm (UTC)
Sandwiches and religion
Actually, "sell sandwiches and the community will come" is kind of the idea, except it's sandwiches, coffee, wine, music, art, conversation, lectures, lessons and anything else we or anyone thinks of (well, it has to be legal). But, yes, the religion/emergent part is only if it turns up--someone asks.
If it doesn't, we're just talking and sharing the space. Community will form (hopefully) around all the stuff we do and offer. Maybe someone will ask a question that leads us down a "faith" path, or where's meaning, or why's that. i don't think we'll be pushing anything.
Also, it will depend on who shows up.
Jan. 17th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Sandwiches and religion
Hmm...maybe we're looking at a via media situation here? It feels like that. On the one hand, you have a Christian Starbucks (TM). On the other hand, you have people eating their spiritual hats, like you said, and only bringing it up like you describe here, as asked, if asked.

It seems a bit more like in our face-to-face discussions, like we're looking at a middle line? Spiritually a little bit more overt than just "if someone happens to ask." But that was kind of one of the cruxes of yesterday's discussion - how overt the spirituality would be, and maybe we're not on the same page, or maybe we're on a bunch of different pages, each of us...

Jan. 23rd, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
I would find it an interesting place to visit, though I doubt I'm social enough to be part of a core group.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )