Lutherans in the Twin Cities

St. Martin’s Table celebrates 25 years

Local nonprofit sees changes and challenges of its unique ministry

For the last 25 years St. Martin’s Table has been a community sustained by its people. And in return it sustains them. Former Minneapolis Area Synod (ELCA) Bishop Dave Olson once referred to St. Martin’s Table as a “word and sacrament ministry” because it offers the “word” through the bookstore and the “sacrament” in the restaurant.

When entering St. Martin’s Table from the busy streets in the heart of Minneapolis, one is instantly brought into a place of calm, peace, and genuine friendliness. Inspired by Holden Village, a retreat center located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, St. Martin’s Table was created to be a quiet retreat center in the heart of the city. Inside is a small independent bookstore that adjoins a cozy lunch-time restaurant.

A Social Justice Ministry is Created

Twenty-five years ago this month, Mary and John Schramm, along with a group of about a dozen volunteers, opened St. Martin’s Table. Through a partnership with Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA), Minneapolis, their dream to create a restaurant and bookstore dedicated to peace and social justice issues became a reality. The bookstore shelves became stacked with books on these topics and goods that reflected them, including the recent addition of fair trade products.

Saint Martin's Table, a restaurant and bookstore located near Augsburg College, in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, has provided good food and books for 25 years.

Saint Martin's Table, a restaurant and bookstore located near Augsburg College, in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, has provided good food and books for 25 years.

Mary Schramm says their work in peace and social justice is inspired by what Jesus taught his followers. “It is Christ’s teaching that sets Christians apart from other faiths. Christians espouse Jesus’ teachings of nonviolence,” she said.

The restaurant at St. Martin’s Table intentionally serves all vegetarian offerings, many of which are organic and, if possible, grown locally. While Schramm says the decision to make a vegetarian restaurant was initially as much for practical reasons (due to the high cost of putting in a hood for a stove) as it was to offer items low on the food chain, the community has since embraced presenting sustainable food offerings, which they refer to as “a celebration of God’s gifts to us.”

“The philosophy or theology of the community is represented in the simplicity of the food, which is vegetarian, and the topics of the books,” John Schramm said.

The Dedication of Volunteers

The volunteer workforce is critical to St. Martin’s Table being able to give back to the community. Volunteer Coordinator Mary Preus calls the “persistent and dogged determination” of the volunteers a gift to the ministry of St. Martin’s.

A major outreach focus for the volunteers at St. Martin’s Table is alleviating world hunger, something they combat by donating volunteer server tips to local, national, and global hunger organizations.

“It is because of the volunteer servers that we are able to give money away,” Preus said. Over the course of the last 25 years, the tip money has amounted to more than half-a-million dollars distributed to organizations fighting against hunger.

A Changing World

In many ways, St. Martin’s Table was a vision far ahead of its time. It has offered local, sustainable food for 25 years — a trend that has become mainstream only recently. The current popularity has meant consumers seeking vegetarian or organic meals have more options — providing a challenge for a place that once had a niche market.

Additionally, in a world of economic downturn, St. Martin’s Table has felt the impact. Independent bookstores are rapidly disappearing, largely because they unable to compete with the major chains. In addition, restaurants across the board continue to suffer a decline in sales.

A major outreach focus for the volunteers at St. Martin’s Table is alleviating world hunger, something they combat by donating volunteer server tips to local, national, and global hunger organizations.

Tom Witt, an active volunteer with St. Martin’s Table who was among its founding members, notes that the restaurant is also located in a neighborhood that is rapidly changing, leading them to face new questions on both macro- and micro-levels in order to remain relevant.

“Cedar Riverside neighborhood is a different place than it was 25 years ago. Bookstores are not the gathering places they used to be. Do we want to turn ourselves into an ecumenical Christian Starbucks or stay who we are? Twenty-five years later it is a different reality,” Witt said.

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