One Virginia family evangelizes one cup of coffee at a time

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ROME – Ever and Soren Johnson want people to feel the love of God, one cup of coffee at a time.

Since 2006, the Leesburg, Virginia couple has been leading the Trinity House Community, “a non-profit inspiring families to make their home a taste of heaven for the renewal of faith and culture,” according to its website.

The Johnsons are in Rome this week with their five children, ages ranging from 10 to 19, to address the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) on Saturday, June 25.

This year’s meeting, the 10th edition of the WMOF, is scaled down compared to previous gatherings. The event opens on Wednesday, June 22, in Rome and draws to a close on Sunday, June 26, when Pope Francis addresses the 2,000 participants and announces the host city for the next edition.

Ever told Crux that during the “first stage” of Trinity House, “we were putting on events in parishes” as “an aside” from daily responsibilities. Between raising five children and Soren’s full-time job in the diocese of Arlington, that was all they could give.

“And then in 2014, we opened Trinity House Café in Leesburg,” she said. “We said to our group of fellows that we couldn’t keep meeting in parishes because that is not what new evangelization is supposed to be. There’s no one at a parish meeting who hasn’t already heard the Gospel.”

These fellows helped them with the funds to open the café that has a family-home vibe, and several icons that make it clear the place is not your regular Starbucks or Dunkin’.

In 2019, Soren quit his job, and they have both worked full-time for the non-profit since then. Their oldest daughter worked at the café for three years, and has been greatly missed since she left for college.

The idea for Trinity House started in Poland during a yearly seminar organized by Pope John Paul II biographer George Weigel. The couple met there, and Soren was in the process of becoming a Catholic. He told his Protestant mother of his decision to convert only a month before meeting the woman who would become his wife.

“I was so relieved that he had already told his parents, because I didn’t want for them to think that it was my fault!’” Ever quipped. “He has a bit of a different way of expressing the faith from an average Catholic, and I think it is really helpful; it’s very personal. I always say that for Protestants, their sacrament is fellowship. And they’re just very good at sharing Jesus with each other because they don’t get Jesus in the Eucharist.”

From early on in their relationship, Soren said, both knew that they wanted to do full-time ministry together.

He said that part of their ministry is about leading with beauty, so that others can eventually experience “truth and goodness. I think that new evangelization is to begin with reconversion of our own hearts in our own homes, because as John Paul liked to say, the future of humanity passes by way of the family.”

They feel called to let others know that following Christ in daily family life is not only possible but beautiful, and an experience of the faith in its fullness.

Ever explained John Paul II’s call for new evangelization as a two-sided coin ministry. On one side, “he was very much about bringing the faith into the public square and letting people see the richness of the faith, to re-evangelize former Christian cultures.” On the other side of the coin, she said, the Polish pope was “big on, ‘we have to save marriage and family.’”

While the late pontiff is a big part of the inspiration for Trinity House and what the couple hopes it might accomplish, they are fans of Pope Francis, too.

“We love Pope Francis,” Ever said. “I just love his focus on woundedness and going out to the peripheries. I cannot breathe when I’m just with people like me, all day, every day, because the Gospel wants to flow out and Jesus wants us to bring him to those who don’t already know him. We can’t just stay in a bunker with like-minded people and just pretend like things are fine because they’re fine for us.”

Knowing Jesus, she said, leads one to want to be on the streets because “people are dying in the gutters of the first world because they don’t have the Gospel and they don’t know God’s love.”

When the Argentine pope began talking about going to the peripheries of Europe, Ever said, the couple felt reconfirmed in their ministry.

They hold workshops, send regular newsletters for families to stay inspired, and host monthly gatherings of families for support, but at the center of their ministry is their coffee shop. Trinity House Café evangelizes people from the moment they walk in and find beauty both in the décor and the products on offer, as well as “through an experience of welcoming hospitality.”

“We tell our baristas that their job is to create an encounter with the Holy Spirit when they are preparing a coffee, and to welcome people in a way that they sense that God loves them,” Ever said.

“The faith is not in-your-face in the café, but it is available if you want to go deeper, with Catholic gifts, books, and art that speak to our faith, the inspiration for the place,” Soren said. “It’s like you’re stepping into a beautiful Christian living room.”

“Some of the joys of this ministry at Trinity House Café is that we are open to the public six days a week, over 20,000 guests per year, and you don’t know who’s coming in next,” Soren said. “And so for us, it’s all about that welcoming presence and offering a lot of prayers to the Holy Spirit.”

Part of the reason they opened the café, Ever said, was to serve people with love and not worry about having an argument with anyone, because “it isn’t really about ideas, but about helping people feel the love of God.”

Ever tells the story of eight young people in their 20s who came in and sat at one large table a few years ago.

“They were the LGBTQ outreach group for a local politician and were canvassing the neighborhood,” she said. One of the canvassers was a regular Trinity customer, but the others didn’t know the place. At one point, a guy was talking animatedly and passionately about their canvassing project. Mid-sentence, he looked up, and glanced at an icon of the crucified Christ. He stopped for a second, and gave a questioning look at the person who had chosen the place, whose response was, “yeah, you better watch your language, you might get hit by lightning.”

But never was their presence at the café, or their task at hand, questioned.

At their workshops, Soren tells people that every family has challenges, problems and imperfections, “we are all wounded by sin, and everyone has been hurt in some way by family life. Everyone here is in the same boat. But God asks for us to live a life that is not self-centered, but centered in others. And when people are encouraged to be self-centered, intrapersonal communion in their life starts to die. They become further and further from the image of God.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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