Karen Gibson entered the Church of the Nazarene’s Fresh Ground Coffee Shop in the Battersea neighborhood of London, England, looking for a cup of coffee. She found much more than that.
“From the first day I stepped into Fresh Ground, there was something that felt right about the place,” she says. “There seemed to be a freshness and cheeriness in the air (along with the smell of the delicious food there) that made me feel comfortable, which was further helped when the barista happily told me that I was on ‘sacred ground.' I had had no idea up until that point that I was, in fact, in church.”
As a follower of Jesus, Gibson was delighted to find the church, in part through its coffee shop, had positioned itself as a community center in Battersea. Fresh Ground provides several multi-use halls, as well as the café and office spaces, where people meet for exercise and ballet classes, personal wellness, music, and much more.
Gibson, who lives nearby, came to one of the Sunday worship services held in the large, open room behind the cafe. As she got to know Nike and Associate Pastor Michelle Sowerby, she shared her dream of directing a local community choir.
“[They] made it clear to me that they fully supported the vision that I had of a gospel choir,” Gibson said.
For the past 20 years, Gibson has directed The Kingdom Choir and other award-winning choirs, some of which have performed for dignitaries including Nelson Mandela, the Pope, and England’s Queen Elizabeth II. They have also shared their music at special occasions around the world, most recently singing “Stand by Me” at the May 19 Royal Wedding of England’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his now wife, American actress Meghan Markle, in London.
The team at Fresh Ground loved the idea of supporting Gibson’s vision for a community choir. Gospel on the Rise now has 60 choir members who practice in the space every Wednesday night. They perform throughout 10- to 12-week periods.
“It's fair to say that nothing has been too much trouble for Jason or Michelle,” Gibson said. “Their heart for community is also really apparent, and this really shows in their work ethic. I love the venue. I love the design. I love the light and airiness of the place. I would also recommend it as a space for meetings, rehearsals, and recordings. It's wonderful.”
The design and quality of light perhaps added to why Fresh Ground was the preferred location for producers of Good Morning America, a daily U.S. morning news program, to broadcast a live interview with Gibson and a performance by the Kingdom Choir on Monday, 21 May. Clips from the broadcast are linked on Fresh Ground’s Facebook page.
“[Gibson’s] relationship with Fresh Ground, in particular, has been really warm, collaborative and very spirit-driven and mission-orientated,” Nike said. “She’s regularly at Fresh Ground using the café and knows our core group, our staff, and others in the Fresh Ground community. Having the choir has opened many doors in our community. We thank God for all He is doing through Karen and the choir, and are really thrilled that they are partnering with us in ‘enriching our community through faith, friendship and compassion.’*”
The coffee shop, as well as the rest of the building, was intentionally designed to create an accessible presence and a hub for developing a sense of community in Battersea, at the heart of which would be the church, according to Nike.
“Everyone using Fresh Ground – be it for Pilates or prayer, workouts or worship – is welcomed equally," she said. "To access all the spaces (three multi-use community halls, offices, on-site apartment, and therapy room) everyone has to enter through the café, where they are given the warmest of welcomes (great coffee, food, and service)."
For information on volunteering at or partnering with Fresh Ground, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Fresh Ground Mission statement