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Ministry balances with busines

By Mary Stamp

Working at The Book Parlor “shapes and stretches” Casey Laughary’s faith as he interacts with people who are on the margins, homeless or struggling with addictions. 

Casey Laughary
Casey Laughary at The Book Parlor

Part of the store’s mission is selling books, fair-trade gifts and local art, and part of its mission is to be present with people in the neighborhood who drop in for books, or for coffee and food at the adjacent Indaba Coffee shop.

Both business-ministries are on the store-front level of Walnut Corners, which houses 18 chronically mentally ill residents in low-income apartments.  It’s across the street from Salem Lutheran Church, which first opened The Book Parlor in a house beside the church.  Behind the church is another low-income apartment complex for 29 singles and families.

Other neighbors include county offices, attorneys and the low-income West Central neighborhood.

“I see how people who drop in keep hope and joy in the midst of their lives,” Casey said.  “Rather than looking at wealthy people and thinking, ‘Woe is me,’ I realize that I am blessed.  I am not trapped by the materialist culture that says I need the latest and newest.”

Six years ago, he started working part time at The Book Parlor, when it was in the house.  He lived in an upstairs apartment free.  Eventually, his job grew to full-time manager.

The Book Parlor started in 2001 to provide theological resources and promote theological discussion.  Now it is a full-service neighborhood bookstore, as well as a Christian bookstore, offering 10,000 books—5,000 on the shelves and 6,000 online.

It sells used fiction and nonfiction books for 50-cents and up, so it costs less for people in the neighborhood to buy a book there than to go by bus or car to the library.

Casey attended The Berkshire, Mass., Institute for Christian Studies, an Adventist Christian Bible college, the Christian Missionary Alliance School in Nyack, N.Y., and Whitworth University.  He also spent a few years in Seattle before moving back to Spokane.

Having done retail work and loving to read, he said the job fits. Faith also motivates him. Casey, who is a member at his home church, Immanuel Baptist in the Shadle Park neighborhood, also attends Salem Lutheran.

Active in regional American Baptist camp ministries at Ross Point Camp and other camps in Utah, Montana, Oregon, Idaho and Washington, he became interested in the business aspect of camp ministries—generating income to keep the summer youth camps viable by opening the camps for other groups.  He applies this business-ministry sense at the Book Parlor.

“It’s intriguing to find ways to use business to support our mission,” he said.  “It’s easy to focus on business, but if we focus on it too much, what’s the point?  Our purpose is ministry.  Similarly, if we focus on the mission and neglect business, our doors won’t stay open,” he said.  “It’s a challenge to keep perspective.”

The Book Parlor is a ministry of Salem Lutheran, a partner in Spokane Urban Ministries with All Saints Lutheran—the former Emmanuel, Grace and St. Paul Lutheran churches.  All Saints is paying the lease until mid-2011.

Salem donated the land.  Spokane Urban Ministries built the projects, breaking ground on Walnut Corners in July 2008.  The churches donated funds and, in September 2008, the economy and bank loan fell apart, so the state stepped up with a short-term loan, Casey said.

“It took miracles for this to come about,” he commented.  “No banks were lending and we had to finish it in a year.”

In September 2009, The Book Parlor moved into Walnut Corners, sharing the retail space with Indaba Coffee.  “Indaba” in Zulu means “gathering,” particularly for discussing politics.

Many who come are from nearby businesses and the County Courthouse down the street.

The shift from a house to a retail space close to the sidewalk has brought more walk-ins from the neighborhood.  However, fewer people just released from jail stop in, because it’s a more “public” space than the house.

We have a space for neighbors to meet neighbors,” Casey said.  “Some just need an ear, because there are few public spaces in West Central Spokane.

“People who would not come to church come here,” he said.  “People see us as part of the neighborhood.

Hospitality can be inconvenient for business, but our ministry is to create space for hospitality and community,” he said.

The Book Parlor, Indaba Coffee and Katie’s Table, which had sandwiches and groceries, started as “The Commons.”  Indaba now makes and sells sandwiches.

When book business is slow and food business is busy, Casey, who has a food handler’s permit, can help Indaba.  

Bobby Enslow, co-owner of Indaba, has lived on tips and no salary to make the venture work through the tough economy. 

His pastor at The Porch, Dave Wilkinson, comes every day, along with Moody Bible College students who work at Christ the Redeemer Church. Youth for Christ and Spokane Urban Ministries meet there.

As an example of the spirit of ministry, Casey told of a man coming in near closing.  Business was slow, so Casey struck up a conversation with him and learned he had a head trauma injury from service in Afghanistan.  Listening led to conversing about faith.

“People often tell of faith struggles,” said Casey, who stayed half an hour after closing to talk.  “This is a place of presence.  We need to be there to let people unload.”

The ministry also includes speakers, events, discussion groups and book clubs.  The Book Parlor is gearing up to have monthly events and educational programs in 2011. 

Wednesday evenings since Oct. 27, there has been a contemplative service, “Open Table,” led by Liv Larson Andrews, associate pastor at Salem.  She will become pastor after Tom Soeldner retires at the end of the year.  About 15 people come at 5:15  p.m. for meditation and Eucharist at 6 p.m.

“Open Table gathers people’s hurts and hopes together in the presence of Jesus with silence, song, prayer, bread and wine,” Casey said.

Salem Lutheran’s Walk and Pray group gathers at 9 a.m., Mondays at The Book Parlor to go out through the neighborhood.

“They see needs the church would not see if they stayed inside the church walls,” he said.

To help people serve neighbors, a drop box sits by the door for people to drop donations to Our Place Community Ministries nearby.

As part of community building for the ministry team, staff meet every week to pray, read Scripture and talk about faith needs for themselves and the community.

Lolita Javier works 30 hours a week at The Book Parlor.  Former managers Cheri Nelson and Connie Copeland Malone who fill in are also part of the team.

“I have learned how to live my faith, not just live it for me personally but live it by contributing to the neighborhood,” Casey said.

The Book Parlor also has Christian supplies, candles and communion cups for sale and can order other church-related items, including curricula.  The religious books are ecumenical and interfaith, offering many perspectives.

The West Central Community’s Project Hope sells its T-shirts for Jobs Not Jails.  Project Hope’s community gardens, Vinegar Flats Garden, The Porch’s garden, New Leaf Bakery and a few other vendors offered a weekly farmer’s market in the parking lot of Christ the Redeemer across the street during the summer.

Another service is free Wi-Fi and a community computer where people can check emails.

For information, call 328-6527 or email lutheranbooks@msn.com or info@thebookparlor.com.

 

Copyright © December 2010 - The Fig Tree