By Cynthia A. Lovely
“Jacob’s Well” from Biblical times still exists today on the grounds of an Eastern Orthodox monastery in the city of Nablus on the West Bank. The well is mentioned in John 4:5-15 as a place where Jesus stopped to rest, leading to a conversation with a Samaritan woman, offering a new promise of “living water.” Jacob’s Well may also be found in our present day at 1914 Broadway in the midst of a busy city street in Schenectady, New York.
No, not an ancient well made of solid rock, soil and limestone rising up on a highway filled with commercial buildings, houses and apartments. But a different type of resting place and outreach settled in the middle of an urban neighborhood.
Jacob’s Well is actually a sweet spot, a little café in a bustling community. The café originated from a desire to reach beyond the church walls of the Bellevue Reformed Church, located a few doors down from the café. Pastor Rich Scheenstra of Bellevue Reformed explained how a “well” used to be a place of social interaction in traditional cultures. “It was often a place to catch up with your neighbors and exchange news and perhaps the latest gossip.”
Referring to the scripture in John, Pastor Rich said, “The fact that the Samaritan woman went alone to Jacob’s Well in the heat of the day reflects her status as a social outcast, probably because she’d been married five times and now lived with a man she wasn’t married to. But Jesus shows her respect and has this great conversation with her that includes an invitation to drink from a different kind of well, a well that contains living water. People who aren’t Christians are much more likely to enter a café than a church. We want our café to be a place where everyone feels welcome and where all sorts of conversations can take place, including conversations that talk about the Living Water called Jesus.” This concept has proven to be true as the café attracts customers on a regular basis, many of them coming back week after week. And several have been drawn to the church through this ministry.
The colorful café is bright and cheery with high tin ceilings and polished wood floors. The space is small and cozy, with tables arranged for good conversation or the choice of comfortable armchairs in the corner for more solitary contemplation. The staff is friendly without being intrusive. Are you looking for fellowship or someone to talk to? They are responsive and available. Do you need a place to work on writing with free WiFi or a quiet corner to relax? They respect your need for privacy.
Pastor Rich and his wife Sharon, often volunteer at the Café to help out during busy times. Saturday mornings offer a low cost breakfast menu which keeps them going from 8:00 am-1:00 pm, serving omelets, pancakes, french toast, and breakfast sandwiches. Weekday hours are on Wednesdays from 4:00-7:00 pm and Thursdays from 11:30 am to 7:00 pm, offering quesadillas, burgers, and sandwiches at reasonable prices.
Church members volunteer and fill in when necessary. There is also an intern program with youth who are pleased to have part time work in such a
pleasant atmosphere. Bobbie Young, kitchen supervisor, is personable and chats with every customer, extending a warm and welcoming vibe.
In a tough economy, Bellevue Reformed Church has managed to “step out of the box” and used bequest money to purchase and remodel the building for Jacob’s Well. At this point, the ministry is self-supporting with the bonus of income from four rental apartments in the building. Good planning and wise stewardship has led to success in their efforts. Because they keep the costs low, it may not turn into a money-maker but that is not the objective. The café is serving the initial purpose and goal of becoming more involved in the community.
Jacob’s Well has had a positive effect upon the community and neighbors appreciate the outreach and obvious desire of the church to be a blessing to their locale. “We’ve had several people become part of our church because of these ministries,” said Pastor Rich. There is also a small adjoining thrift store, “Ruth’s Place,” which links directly to the café. You can order lunch, browse through the thrift store for treasures, and come back to enjoy a meal.
Pastor Rich offered valuable advice to other leaders contemplating a different type of outreach. “You need a few passionate, highly dedicated people to get these sorts of ministries off the ground and keep them viable over the long haul. Some volunteers will be enthusiastic at first but then realize they don’t have the energy or the gifts or sense of call to continue. And that’s okay. People need to have the freedom to try new things and then to say that it didn’t work for them.”
He mentioned an important point: “Obviously God is the key player, so prayer is essential. It’s also important to take one step at a time. I also believe it’s really important as leaders we don’t try to manipulate our people into doing what we want them to do, or what we think is best.”
One step at a time, the café is making progress and key people are fitting into their God-given roles to minister in a new way. Jacob’s Well is a safe refuge and a perfect spot to share a good meal with lively conversation, knowing the focus of it all is pointing others to the Living Water, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.