Five years ago, Sue Justice began working with the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and Wesley Foundation’s Abba Java Coffee House at 250 E. College Ave.
This coffee house, a campus ministry, had been in existence for 15 years. The Wesley Foundation is a campus ministry sponsored by the United Methodist Church and the coffee house grew out of that ministry. Jen Gruendler is campus minister and director of Wesley Foundation.
The mission of Abba Java is to be a “home away from home” for Penn State students. As time went on, it became evident that consistent management, hours and offerings were necessary to ensure success. It was determined that there needed to be one charge person full-time at the coffee house. Justice took the job as Abba Java Coffee House manager.
“The vision is to extend the outreach in a welcoming, comfortable and inviting atmosphere,” said Justice. “We don’t try to convert or preach to anyone. The space serves students from many denominations and cultural backgrounds each day. It is much more than a place to get coffee.”
At Abba Java, there is a welcome and a friendly smile as well as free snacks and coffee. It takes as many as 35-40 volunteers per week to keep the service counter ready, make coffee and prepare meals and snacks. They clean and do the recycling and organizing.
The staff at the coffee house enjoys getting to know the students and staffers are always ready to discuss common interests or listen to a student’s problems. Abba Java has also attracted some student volunteers, some who need service hours, and some who like the feel of the place and step in to help.
Besides free coffee, Abba Java provides free snacks and a quiet place to study. Two years ago, the staff and volunteers remodeled the space and made it much more friendly and appealing. There are tables for studying and eating and conversation areas.
There is another room that has been painted and will be finished attractively to be reserved as a quiet space.
A grant from the Lilly Foundation has made it possible to develop a program for vocational discernment, provide work experiences and also to fund retreats for the staff. The grant also enables student interns to attend retreats or travel on service trips.
There are eight interns for 2018 and they can concentrate on areas of management in the coffee house, the children’s ministry or in the health education ministry in the church.
Abba Java receives support from the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of the Susquehanna Conference, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, Irving’s Bagels, Weis Market on South Atherton Street and Jimmy John’s in State College.
Director Jen Gruendler has reached out to other churches and their campus ministries to partner for mission trips. Partnerships also bring in speakers such as author Rachel Held Evans.
“We have partnered with Lion’s Pantry to be a distribution site for food and we are a summer distribution space for the PSU student farm,” said Gruendler. “They utilize the space to hold community meals.”
Wesley works to be ecumenical and partners with Lutheran Campus Ministry, the Presbyterian Student Fellowship and Third Way Collective to do mission trips. During spring break, a group traveled to Houston for hurricane relief. In the fall, a combined group from the campus ministries will travel to Washington, D.C., for a “Focus on Justice” event.
“God gives abundantly, generously,” said Gruendler. “So we should also give freely, without strings attached. We want the students to be fed, be known and be loved.”