If You Caffeinate Them, They Will Come

Editor’s note: We’ve been holding off on running this post given this week’s events in Boston — but perhaps it’s time for some more hopeful news from Boston, even as we continue to pray with and for everyone who’s suffering.

News flash: Catholic university asks people to talk to students about God. All right, so that’s not much of a story. People have been trying that for years, and usually without much success. The intersesting thing about Boston College’s “Agape Latte” — the thing that got our attention — is that it actually seems to work. Students show up — hundreds of students, and then they come back, and they bring friends. We wanted to know why.

For the last few years, Boston College’s Church in the 21st Century Center, in partnership with BC’s Campus Ministry, has been figuring out to engage students in a conversation about faith — with coffee (and cake, pastries, and other desserts: feeding college students to attract them to an event is an old trick, after all). They’ve been running a series of talks, on the first Tuesday of every month, called “Agape Latte.” They ask well-known figures at BC — everyone from the president to professors to BC football’s (and now the New York Giants’) cancer survivor Mark Herzlich — to talk to any students who decide to show up about where and how they find God in their lives.

At the end of last semester, a couple of us from TJP (Michael Rozier and Sam Sawyer) dropped in at an Agape Latte talk given by two professors at BC, Jeff Bloechl and Catherine Cornille, about making the Campostela pilgrimage with their children as a family spiritual experience. Before and after the talk, we talked with a few BC students — some who attended talks like this regularly, and some who were there for the first time — about why they came and what they got out of it. We’ve edited some of those conversations together, along with a few clips from various Agape Latte talks.

What is it that makes Agape Latte work? From what we heard from these students, we’d highlight two things in particular: consistency and authenticity. A number of the students who were there for the first time mentioned that they’d been thinking about coming or meaning to come for a while, and had finally found time to come. So the fact that there are a lot of these events, one offered every month, makes the offer of conversation easier to recognize and eventually, to accept. And once the students were there, free coffee and cookies in hand, the conversations worked because they started from the ground of actual experience before they theologized about it.

Whether it’s a Jesuit confessing that sometimes God speaks through Taylor Swift or a linebacker describing how he learned to trust that God is listening when he prays, these conversations get to the heart of the matter — which is not, in the first instance, the religious meaning or interpretation of these experiences, but simply the fact that they really happened to other real people.

As one of the students said in our interviews: these topics may not come up in daily conversation, but they are something they want to talk about, given the opportunity.

The possibility of real conversation about faith, especially among young adults, has been a popular topic here at TJP. For anyone interested in that possibility, the video archive of Agape Latte talks is a good place to start.

And they’re seeing what other conversations can be sparked by starting with the real experience of faith and spirituality, with a week of events, starting on Monday, April 21, called “Espresso Your Faith.”