When you walk into 541 Barton, there is an energy and hopefulness that is palpable. Like a lit streetlight in a power outage, it has a sense of vibrancy and life that few other buildings on the street can match.
541 is a visionary project. It is an eatery that specializes in healthy, home-style cooking at affordable prices so that there are no barriers to people from the neighbourhood who want to drop in. Through their buttons-as-currency exchange, they are creating opportunities for those who have a little extra to share with those who need a little extra. By relying on a core of passionate volunteers, 541 is keeping their prices low and their doors very wide open.
541 is more than just a social-minded café, however. Part of its core vision grew from the work of one of CBOQ’s pastors, Sue Carr, who worked at a local ministry to the homeless. In a somewhat dingy room, a reticent Sue was asked to start a chapel service. Before she knew what was happening, word got out and the room was full, but many people were coming hungry, (even asking for seconds of Communion).
The church began to provide meals for people, which meant that while some came only for the food, others were coming for more. When it was finally time to move on, Sue began to wonder about relocating her church. After consulting with a few pastor friends, and finding them all in agreement, Sue knew that it was time for a new place.
Now that place is in the bright and airy 541. While the only remnant of traditional church is a sneaky old pew, what happens there is what has happened since the first Apostles started churches. People gather together. They worship together. They share their lives and learn about Jesus. They are not always in the best shape, and few would even have a suit and tie to come in. But here they are welcomed. The Spirit is clearly with Sue in her work.
With all the trappings of a hipster paradise, including gluten-free baked goods and excellent coffee, there could be a perceived threat of becoming too trendy, but Sue is very clear on this point. All are welcome at 541. She has big plans for the place to help low income families enjoy healthy family meals and provide after-school support. She is excited to be different and to engage with people from all walks of life in the café. And most of all, she is excited that the people she serves know that 541 is their place too.
If you live in Hamilton, and you would like to consider dropping in or volunteering, go to http://fivefortyone.ca.