Original post at http://umclead.com/coffee-and-punk-in-the-bible-belt-15-questions-with-kevin-veitinger/
MJ: Kevin Veitinger. Thanks for making time this morning for the first UMC LEAD Forum Friday. You’ve got an exciting new ministry going in Savannah, Georgia, called “The Foundery.” Tell the LEADers and readers about it.
KV: Sure! The Foundery is a project of the South Georgia Conference. We exist as a new church start. We also exist as a coffee shop; full-functioning, 120-hour-per-week coffee shop. We also have a branch of ministry to the artist community in Savannah. Savannah has the the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Their campus is scattered across downtown, and we are right across the street from one of their buildings. So we have what we call “The Conservatory” where we offer gallery space in exchange for volunteer hours. And we do other things with open mics and film. And the fourth piece is what we are calling “Community Cultivating.” We are going out into our neighborhood, doing asset-based ministry, looking for stories, and gifts, and graces within our community, and looking for ways that we can connect people together.
MJ: So, it is church, coffee, conservatory, and community. Clearly you are skilled at alliteration. Why is doing this kind of ministry important to you?
KV: I moved here [from Florida] about eight years ago to take a youth ministry job at a local church, but one month in I got fired. Looking back on it now, I was already on burnout. It was a really bad experience. I think I wanted to get fired. So then I left the church. I was done. I had started the ordination process but quit that. I stopped participating in any congregational life at all. And I decided that my new lot in life was going to be a manager at Starbucks.
It was there that I saw that there’s a large group of people here in Savannah, and across the Bible Belt, that are underserved by the church. It is a subculture that the church doesn’t get. The church has not done a good job of reaching out to this emerging generation of artists and creatives. So part of it is a recognition of that community’s need to be served and my calling to be with them.
The other half — the why the coffee shop — when I was at Starbucks, I came to the realization that God had been using me there. Folks hurting reached out to me. They saw me as a safe person. These people had been hurt by the church and so had I. So I recognized that a coffee shop offered a context, at least here in Savannah, where people were willing to be honest, build relationships, and be in community. It was a great third place where they were willing to be known and get to know people.
MJ: Planting a non-traditional, para-church in the heart of the Bible Belt must not be an easy thing. How have you gone about getting the people in your Annual Conference and Savannah to share in your vision for The Foundery?
KV: I’m stubborn. This has been a five-year project. But I really believe in what I’m doing. So that is a big part of it. I’m also in the only place here in the USA where John and Charles [Wesley] really lived. And Savannah Methodists are really proud of that. So I spent a lot of time reading about the early, pre-denominational Methodists. And I found what I believed to be a huge corollary between what I thought would be effective here and what those early Methodists were doing. So I played to that sense of history, using all those terms and ideals that most of us got really excited about when we were in seminary. And I was able to articulate in a way that made it translate to what we were doing at The Foundery.
When Veitinger isn’t slinging coffee he’s playing drums in his punk rock band.
MJ: There is a statue of John Wesley there in Savannah. Have you defaced it yet by putting a big Foundery sticker on his forehead?
KV: I have not. I have some friends that are yarn bombers, and I keep telling them that I will pay them to knit a big sweater that says “The Foundery” on it, and put that on him. That hasn’t happened yet. But I am waiting. My hope is I can convince one of them. It is also hard to do anything secretive to that statue. There are always people in that square where it sits. It is also really tall. He is immortalized in Savannah as a much larger figure than he was in real life.
MJ: That is true for how many of us see him, I am afraid. So, getting to this point has taken quite a bit longer than you had envisioned. What were the biggest roadblocks to The Foundery, and how were those overcome?
KV: There were a few, very different roadblocks. The first was doing very different, non-traditional ministry in the Bible Belt. And not just the Bible Belt, but South Georgia. We are the slowest part of a denomination that moves very slowly. So it took a long time to get people to trust me. It didn’t help that I was from Florida. There was a sense of distrust that this random guy was here trying to do this strange thing. So what I learned was the importance of building relationships.
The most frustrating roadblock was dealing with the City of Savannah. You know, we don’t take business classes at seminary. I wish I would have. That was a huge roadblock. Not only my ignorance, but also a city that was making it extra hard for us. And the lesson I learned from that was hire the lawyer first. There is just a lot to know about starting up something like this. And the only way to overcome that is patience.
MJ: What do challenges like those do to your faith in organized religion or, ultimately, your faith in God?
KV: I already had a pretty jaded view of the church; both a love and hate of the church. I love what the church could be, but get very frustrated by the way it plays out in the world. I think that I’ve learned a lot about patience, prayer, and our role in these strange visions that God leaks into our heads. So it has been more positive than negative.
MJ: We first met at the EmergingUMC2 conference in late 2009. The conference was held in Indianapolis and hosted by this wildy-wonderful church/community-space hybrid called Earth House Collective at Lockerbie Central UMC. There was a vegetarian restaurant in the basement, A coffee bar and art gallery on the main floor, and a concert and worship space above that. How much of your idea for The Foundery had already been conceived at that point, and how much was inspired by Earthouse/Lockerbie?
KV: I think there was quite a bit there before that event. But in talking to Mike Oles up there — and we still talk from time to time — I think he really helped me with the arts part, and helped broaden my view of ways in which we could interact with the arts community. That experience, and the relationship, certainly helped tweak and clarify a lot of the ideas that were pretty ethereal at that point.
MJ: When Earth House/Lockerbie Central closed in 2012 due to what their leadership determined was an “unsustainable model,” what lessons did you take away from watching that happen that have helped you at The Foundery?
KV: One thing that I always picked up on was a struggle there between them, their district, and their annual conference. It always seemed to be tenuous. And I realized, to do The Foundery, I had to have a good relationship with my district, especially the other pastors in downtown Savannah where we are. Just a second … [On cue, one of them knocks on his office door.] So I learned this couldn’t just be a Kevin project. It needed buy-in from others.
MJ: One of the things you’ve been doing in Savannah for a while is serving as campus minister for SCAD. A student there even made a short documentary about your troubles with getting The Foundery launched. Seeing that campus ministry is on the chopping block all over the denomination, what would you say about its value to those who hold the ax?
KV: It breaks my heart that funding cuts to campus ministry are even being talked about. Campus ministry has been a huge part of keeping us vital. It is one of the best ministries that we do as a church as far as bang for our buck. But it may be time to look at some other ways to do that.
MJ: Could ministries like The Foundery be another (and maybe better) way to do campus ministry? You’ve got some company on that front with what Mike Baughman is doing in Dallas with Union.
KV: I think in some contexts, absolutely. I think one thing that bothers me about campus ministry is age segregation. So often it does more harm than good as far as uniting the church. I’ve wondered for years what happens to those who stick around in the town where they go to school, because they can’t stick around in the ministry that was so important to them. What they get is a stuffy place where there isn’t much for them. So what would it look like to make our campus ministries be more like a church plant on a college campus? I think we need to try that.
The sharpest barista in town.
MJ: Now, I have to ask … the uniform. I get the ties. I wore those bagging groceries. But what’s with the vests? Are you all members of the Jerry Herships fan club or something?
KV: I had this concept of what I wanted the feel of the coffee pub to be — a turn-of-the-century pub plus a foundry — and my friend told me that was “steampunk” (which I’d never heard of), so I looked it up and and it seemed to be the right fit. And I looked at a lot of old photographs and paintings of what those old bartenders wore, and they all wore vests.
MJ: They also wore amazing mustaches. Are you going to grow one like mine?
KV: Many of them did. But I don’t grow a mustache very well. It definitely wouldn’t look like yours. It may look too much like a creeper ‘stache and then nobody would come in. [laughs] I have some employees with really great facial hair, though. I do have my awesome [mutton] chops.
MJ: You put on that tie and vest during the day, but at night you put on a clerical collar to play in an f-bomb-dropping punk band. And, occasionally, you emcee roller derby. How you keep your pastoral identity in the midst of all of that?
KV: And I also coach high school soccer. If we are to call ourselves “Wesleyan” then our pastoral identity is based in that oft-quoted phrase “The world is my parish.” I’m called Rev. Kev everywhere. People around town call me that. The girls on my team don’t call me coach; they call me Rev. Kev. The folks at roller derby call me Rev. Kev. To me, being a pastor is so much bigger than being encased in a Christian ghetto and only paying attention to those who put money in our collection plate. I can’t comprehend living out this vocation without being in the community. And I’m not talking about Rotary. And that affords me the opportunity to engage in conversations with people who will never darken the doors. Pastors becoming insular is the reason we are declining as a church. Not just the UMC, but the church in general.
MJ: Knowing you were a punk fan, last time you were up here I took you to go see Chicago’s legendary punk rockers Naked Raygun.
KV: Yes. It was life changing!
MJ: What is it about punk rock that resonates with you, and do you think the church can learn anything from punk culture?
KV: One of the issues the church has is that we are the dominant culture. In the Bible Belt especially. But, throughout history, the church has been most vital when we’ve been present in culture, and willing to stand against the parts of it that are oppressive. Punk culture is made up of people who aren’t willing to conform to the dominant culture. They aren’t afraid to call bulls#*t when it needs to be called and celebrate what needs to be celebrated. The Sex Pistols had a lot of interesting things to say about the Queen. So, a lot of the themes of punk culture are our themes. They are Jesus, “sermon on the mount” stuff. There is a great marriage there. We should recognize that we should be just as vocal and angry as they are. And we should also be ready to say something about that, because we do have something to say about that.
MJ: On top of all this, you are married. You’ve got kids. How do you make time for a family life while doing the hard work of launching something like this?
KV: I think at times I really fail at that. But, I try to include my kids in the things I do. I try to include my wife in the things that I do. All of this is a part of my life and I want them to be involved in all of it, too. But I do make time. I set boundaries. I didn’t go to soccer practice yesterday because my wife had oral surgery and needed some help, and the other coach could handle it. I make sure I have people I can trust, so that when I can step away, I step away. One thing, I think, that pastors do that gets them burned out is that they don’t trust their leaders. We need to trust others in order to be able to step away.
MJ: What would you offer to the innovators and entrepreneur-type faith leaders as the most important bit of wisdom you’ve discovered in getting The Foundery up and running?
KV: I would say, if you have a vision that you really believe God has put on your heart, then trust God to have given you the ability to do it. And, not only be patient, but be stubborn. Don’t give up. I think a lot of times, we throw our hands up and we say “This isn’t going to happen. The system won’t let me. I can’t do it.” And we start questioning our ability. But if we can get past some of the roadblocks that will all change quickly. And, finally, sometimes we don’t see the fruits of our labor until many years later. And we have to be OK with that.