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Some information is best shared “over coffee”

Faith-based community education events draw broad interest

Thinking outside the box is precisely what Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd (ELCA) did when it started its “Over Coffee” series of events back in 1994. Former Pastor Paul Monson thought something other than a Bible study would draw in people from the community around the church. That was precisely what has happened.
One recent evening former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson was the speaker, and about 200 persons came out for an evening of lively discussion. Attendance for the informal gatherings ranges from 75 up to 200, a number that necessitated that the event be moved to a larger space in the church.

The majority of attendees of Over Coffee are not members of the congregation.

Outstanding speakers are a draw, but there is also Caribou coffee and Breuggers bagels for attendees. Herb Morgenthaler, who heads the planning for the events, says Caribou and Breuggers stores located just up the street at 44th and France provide coffee and four dozen bagels respectively. The program operates with a grant from the church’s foundation as well as donations by attendees. All speakers are offered a $200 honorarium, though many refuse it or turn it back to the church or a charity.
There was a five-week series in October-November and another five-week series will be held in February-March 2012.
The fall 2011 series of Thursday evening events featured speakers such as Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea, musician and recent Prairie Home Companion guest Dan Chouinard, and Peter Hutchinson, the Independence Party candidate for governor in the most recent statewide election. For the February-March 2012 series, Neal & Leandra, a musical duo who perform on the Prairie Home Companion program, will be one of the features. A complete listing of programs for the spring series may be found at the church’s website:

Attracting ‘pretty good speakers’

Morgenthaler says the majority of attendees are not members of the congregation. A few have joined the congregation, but that was not the primary motivation for starting and continuing the series. It was building community, and that is what the series has done and will continue to do.
Over the years many well-known people have been on the program at Good Shepherd. Morgenthaler says sometimes the speakers are friends and sometimes it just takes a letter of introduction and invitation to interest people in appearing. Past presenters have included former Vice President Walter Mondale; former Congressman Tim Penny; Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak; Jim Klobuchar, former Star Tribune columnist; Stanley Hubbard of Hubbard Broadcasting; Mike Veeck, president of the St. Paul Saints baseball team; former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer; and several Minneapolis Public School superintendents over the years.

The “Over Coffee” program at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd (ELCA), Minneapolis, draws heavily from the surrounding community in addition to the congregation. Stimulating speakers draw large crowds of animated listeners to the two annual series. Photo provided by Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd

When Carlson received an “Over Coffee” mug after his presentation, the honorarium check was inside. Carlson wrote to Morgenthaler, “It is truly amazing what one can find in a coffee cup. I am returning [the check] in the hopes that your program will continue because it does so much to keep the community involved. Frankly, we will need that intelligent involvement more now than in the past two decades.”
How do members of the congregation feel about the series? John Teisberg explained his interest in the program: “We attract pretty good speakers. At least two-thirds of those attending are not members. So, it shows a lot of interest on the part of people who want to know what’s going on.”
Peg Schwob, a non-member of the congregation but a regular at the events, says, “When we came to Minneapolis 10 years ago, we didn’t know much about the community. How else would we be able to hear important people with important things to say?” She termed the series a “real community service” and likes the fact that the events have a firm time limit, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Morgenthaler is a New York Norwegian who came to Minneapolis via Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He is retired from the former Dayton Hudson Corp., and currently serves as treasurer on the Norway House board of directors. His other interests include Concordia, which sponsors Skogfjorden Norwegian Language Village attended by his three daughters, and figure skating organizations, as well as Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd which is located at 4801 France Avenue South, Minneapolis.

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