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After 130 years Gathering House continues to innovate

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By Taylor Fe Mamaril

The Gathering House and Street Wise Café in the Garland district serves as a new model for church goers.

Rob Bryceson

Pastor Rob Bryceson and his wife Tonia work together to run a church and coffee shop in the same building. The Gathering House celebrated its 130th anniversary in October, but the small community continues to develop as their innovative ideas for their building grow.

The combination of a church and café emerged when Bryceson worked in his church building downtown (formerly called First Covenant Church), before they moved to the Garland district.

“What if we could change the model of church? What if we could find a space that was usable seven days a week and we didn’t just wait around for Sundays?,” said Bryceson. “We decided to build this job training coffee shop for people coming out of jail addiction or poverty or whatever the situation is.”

Bryceson was the chairman for the Spokane Homeless Coalition at the time and has continued his work with the homeless for many years. The Gathering House offers space for both of Bryceson’s passions to come together.

“Here at the café we’ve taken in a lot of people who have just come out of jail,” said Bryceson. “A lot of what you’re doing when you’re doing job training, is not about being a barista or how to make a grilled cheese sandwich… it’s the social skills.”

Maisy Miller has worked for the café for over three years, though not under the program. She’s learned more than just management skills as she’s helped Tonia train and help others that need improvement on some social skills.

“It’s amazing seeing people grow through the program,” says Miller. “There’s a quote written on the wall that was said by a close family friend and they hold Homeless Coalition meetings here every month. It’s fun I get to hear everything going on and feel like I’m making a difference through the program.”

Coffee Shop inside The Gathering House/Taylor Fe Mamaril

Street Wise Café is a job training program for people who have lived through difficult situations and need help improving social skills. Tonia runs the café while Pastor Rob runs the sermons and works with the Spokane Homeless Coalition who meet at the Gathering House first Thursday of every month to discuss Spokane events and issues.

“It’s been an interesting journey who we decide to take in and talk to,” says Bryceson. “And they need to work in an environment that’s patient and understands what they’re trying to deal with and corrects a lot of their social errors or faux pas on how to talk to people and my wife is just phenomenal.”

Bryceson has been the pastor at the Gathering House for 10 years and has seen it develop and progress in numbers and recognition. That church has a 50’s diner atmosphere with light blue and salmon colored walls and checkered floors. Bryceson chose this small building to be a space for worship and communal growth. The tables are made of recycled pews and the vintage pipes in the ceiling add to the open and inviting space. When the café is open there are plush cushion seats and tables to sit at throughout the large room with wide walk ways, so wheelchairs can easily fit through. These all disappear once the sermon begins on stage and Bryceson brings out his guitar.

He describes his sermons as “free-flowing” where no one is constrained or forced to do one thing in a particular order. There is music then there are prayer corners and tables, art and meditation areas, and a communion table.

“Younger kids come in saying they like it because of the free-floating style and no one is telling you what to do while the older generation likes it because they’re coming in saying ‘after being in church for 30 years I’m finally learning again,” Bryceson said.

The history of the church begins in 1888 with a group of Swedish immigrants who were members of the Swedish International Mission Covenant of America. The church as grown through many names from the Swedish Christian Church of Spokane, the Swedish Tabernacle, First Covenant Church, and the Gathering House. Their mission focused on looking at the future and bettering the community. Today, Bryceson says he strives to continue that mission with a big heart toward the homeless, second chances and social justice.

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Taylor Fe Mamaril

About Taylor Fe Mamaril

Mamaril is a senior at Gonzaga University majoring in Sociology with a minor in Journalism. Growing up her father heavily identified with the Catholic faith since he grew up in the Philippines. Her mom and her family are Christian but over the years she and her brother have moved between Agnostic and Catholic. Over the years she has become more spiritual than religious. Mamaril is curious how this may have happened and if others experience a similar question of faith and spirituality. Besides studying and researching, she can be found in small bakeries or at the dog park with her pup, Hobo.

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