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By Thomas Rusert

Photos: Julie Louisa Hagenbuch FREE PRAYER in a coffee shop

Every Thursday, Thomas Rusert, a pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church, Doylestown, Pa., takes a sign that says “Free prayer” to a coff ee shop to make himself more available to his community. Rusert said someone has taken him up on the off er every week since he started the practice almost a year ago.

I drink coffee only on Thursdays. This is mainly

because that’s the day I sit at a local coffee shop for a few hours with a little sign that says “Free Prayer.” I like to think I have great ideas, but advice

I’ve received from others gets all the credit for my work as a first-call parish pastor. One mentor and professor said, “As pastors, the first thing we have to do is take care of our people,” so I focused my first year of ministry on spending time at people’s homes. A second bit of advice came from another pastor:

“A pastor is doing the job well when at least half of his or her time is spent outside the office.” Pastors regularly go on hospital visits or stop by newcomers’ homes, but administrative demands of parish ministry keep many of us shackled to our swivel chairs. Every Thursday I heed that good advice and flee to a coffee shop to read and write a sermon. When I first started doing this about a year ago,

I felt insecure and self-indulgent—an incognito pastor munching an “everything” bagel with cream cheese and calling it work. I had to legitimize pastoring in Panera Bread. That’s when I began wearing my clergy collar

and taking a sign that says “Free Prayer” with a quote at the bottom from Martin Luther: “Pray, and let God worry.” Now people stop to pray with me.

28 MAY 2016

One morning a man I hadn’t met walked into

the Starbucks in which I sat. Amari from west Philadelphia had business at the courthouse in Doylestown, Pa., where I serve. He looked at me and asked, “Free prayer? What’s that?” I explained that I’m a pastor in town who goes out to where people are during the week to offer prayer. His eyes welled with tears. He placed his coffee and courthouse papers on my table and walked outside. I packed our things and followed outside

to invite Amari to go for a walk. As we strolled together, I heard all the unuttered prayers and pains he had held inside for two years. His wife had experienced an identity crisis and left him. A dear friend had died from a blood clot. An aunt had died from medical malpractice. Another friend had died from an overdose. Finally, death had taken his sister. Death had hollowed out Amari’s spirit, and he had spoken about it to no one. “Then I read those words, ‘free prayer,’ and I

couldn’t keep it in anymore,” he said. It seemed that God had enacted a little apocalypse, an awakening, in Amari’s soul. And all I’d had to do at first was sit there. Though I offer prayers for others, the blessings

have also come to me. I recall when a man sat down and requested prayer for a friend undergoing heart

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