by Brandon Campanella
They start gathering early in the morning.
Some more awake than others. It is only 6 am, so you can forgive them if they are not fully functioning yet.
However, it doesn’t take long for the room to come to life.
The smell of freshly ground, brewed coffee and the aroma of some delicious pastry pie coming from the oven helps give those bodies the jump start they need.
By 7 am the room is abuzz with conversation and laughter.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
These words of Christ are painted across the south wall of the coffee shop as a reminder of just why we are here. This place is not our own, no matter how many early mornings and late nights are spent here.
The Branch Bistro existed 16 before I ever stepped foot in Los Lunas, and God willing, it will be here long after I leave.
The ministry was birthed by Barry and Lori Wood. They poured their hearts into this quaint, local coffee shop. They watched it grow – moving from a small corner at the train depot, to another shop on Main Street, and finally to its present location in the Albertson Shopping Center.
Then after nearly 20 years, Barry and Lori knew it was time for them to move on.
However, despite their longing for days filled with fishing and camping, they worried that the ministry they had poured their lives into would retire with them. They understood that The Branch was much more than a coffee shop, much more than a local café.
In those 20 years, it has become a staple in the Los Lunas community, a home away from home, a meeting place of the minds if you will.
They poured their hearts and souls into the establishment and did not want to see it become just another coffee shop. They wanted it to keep serving the soulful needs of the community as well as their need for great coffee and baked goods.
So it was, that an excited youth minister and his wife were put into the position to live out a lifelong dream of running a coffee shop.
God has a way though, of making our plans look like kindergarten finger paintings compared to His Renaissance masterpiece. The Branch was destined to be more than just our coffee shop.
After much prayer, it was understood that it would flourish much more if it became a ministry of our little-big church, First Los Lunas. Once God made that clear, the transition of ownership happened seamlessly.
Mostly due to the amazing job that Barry and Lori had done throughout the years, not just running the business but trusting in The Lord, almost no changes needed to take place. More accurately, we were charged with maintaining the ministry as well as all the wonderful relationships that had grown with it throughout the years.
The costumers are loyal, friendly (if not just a little ornery). At times, it almost feels more like walking into your favorite kitchen more than a café as the feeling of home and family abounds. And these customers we now call family do more than show up for coffee, great food, and conversation. They generously care and support each other.
I’ve watched as a barista has prayed with and consoled a patron going through difficulty. I have overheard a regular customer offering assistance to a person having a car issue in the parking lot. I have seen firsthand the coming together to figure out how to best help a regular customer who is a little more than down on their luck. And to me, that is what separates The Branch from any other coffee shop I have ever been to. The loving family environment is not just a show or theme. It is the foundation.
Which brings me back to that verse. “I am the Vine; you are the branches.”
Like most feel good clichés, I heard that verse more times than I can count, I never thought about its implications. That was – until The Branch became our ministry, and now I get to see it acted out daily.
I see it in every face that walks through the door. I see it with every cup of coffee poured. I hear it in every “Good morning!” and “Have a great day.”
When people ask my wife – the curator the shop – who owns it now, she proudly says, “It belongs to the Lord.”
That is usually followed by a laugh and repeat of the question. Then she tells them that First Los Lunas is the proud and humble owner of this Los Lunas landmark. And then she reiterates to them that it does belong to God, and we are just trying to be the best stewards we can be.
Because as long as we remain in Him…this Branch will continue to bear fruit!