Pumpkin whoopies and white chocolate bread pudding are served daily from an old industrial warehouse.
While it may seem odd, the Rev. Kristi Miller said you never know what you’re going to find at Wholly Ground Coffee House in Walker.
The site was renovated in 2010 when Walker Ministries transformed a vacant warehouse into what is now Walker Ministries. The front part of the warehouse was transformed into a coffee shop, while the rest of the space is used for public worship services and community events.
More than a year after it opened, Wholly Ground has exceeded expectations in bringing together people from all over the community, Miller said.
“We wanted a business where ministers could interact with the public,” Miller said, “and there wasn’t a coffee shop in Walker.”
The goal for the coffee shop is to be financially successful enough to run church operations, so that donated money can be used solely for ministry purposes.
The idea for the coffee shop originated from Miller’s work in the foreign mission field. She said there are basic techniques that missionaries use to help get them entrenched into certain cultures. One such technique is a business platform where missionaries offer some type of service to the people to get to know them.
During a mission trip to Asia, she and her husband “began to question why we in America are not more strategic in our attempts to reach people for Jesus,” she said.
They decided to bring the mission-field strategy back home, Miller said.
“From there, after many talks, thoughts and prayers,” Miller said, “the idea for a coffee shop run by the pastor was born.”
The Wholly Ground Coffee House opened Aug. 1, 2011, and Miller said it has given her, her husband and their associate ministers the opportunity to meet people in Walker they never would have met in a traditional church setting.
Miller said they’ve felt overwhelming acceptance from the people of Walker.
She and the other ministers primarily rely on social networking and word-of-mouth to get news out about their upcoming events. She said having their children in the local high school is a big help in reaching out to the teen community.
Wholly Ground has grown to serve many functions for the community of Walker. The most successful event has been open-mic night, which brings in up to 100 people each night.
The larger part of the old warehouse, where Sunday services are held, also serves as a performance venue for local production groups and high schools to put on plays and concerts. An independent production group called Spotlight Theatre is one of the main performing groups to use the space.
“They contacted us about needing a venue,” Miller said, “They’re really geared towards quality but wholesome entertainment.”
As part of the ministry’s philosophy to maintain some separation of business and religion, Miller said the facility has been involved in a lot of secular performances. Recently, Wholly Ground hosted a sold-out performance of “Alice in Wonderland” produced by Walker High School, and in November, Spotlight Theatre put on a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Miller, who teaches Hebrew at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, also teaches Hebrew and other classes in the rooms behind the coffee house.
Credit hours earned are transferable toward degree programs at the seminary, according to http://www.whollyground.
Miller and her husband moved to Walker four years ago in search of a better school system for their children and a community in which they felt they could really make a difference.
The husband and wife duo were employed as ministers at Florida Boulevard Baptist Church in Baton Rouge before they founded Walker Ministries.
“When we lived in Baton Rouge and worked for the church, we didn’t feel part of that community,” Miller said. “Based on our experience in the mission field, we wanted to begin a church that wasn’t so churchlike.”
To reach out to those members of the community who didn’t connect with the traditional concept of church, the Millers began what they call “house churches.” A house church corresponds to the kinds of churches described in the New Testament, she said.
“We open our house once a week and invite people over for an informal worship service,” Miller said. “It’s very relational and nonintimidating.”
The house church concept began with only one home, the Millers’, and has grown to 10 homes and involves more than 100 people. In addition, a weekly public worship service is offered at the primary location in Walker.
“Before, when we were on staff at the church in Baton Rouge, we only saw church people,” Miller said. “Now we engage with the community all day, every day.”
Although they have a box for donations, the ministers don’t talk about money at Walker Ministries. They consider money to be one of the many barriers that prevent people from hearing God’s word, Miller said.
“A lot of people have a sincere willingness to hear about Christ, but we have so many barriers prohibiting that,” Miller said. “We wanted to strip all that away.”
For people involved or not involved in the ministry, the coffee shop is a warm place to go with a wide selection of coffees and baked goods, she said.
A woman named Brittany Carter came into the coffee shop one day and asked about ministry work.
“Luckily for us, she’s the best baker we’ve ever met,” Miller said.
Carter has been volunteering at Wholly Ground ever since, baking up things such as pumpkin whoopies, mocha cake, chocolate chip pecan pie and the coffee shop favorite, white chocolate bread pudding.
Miller calls Wholly Ground “the dessert destination station,” but customers can choose from a variety of coffee drinks, smoothies, muffins, biscuits and other snacks, as well as a full breakfast and sandwich menu.
The Wholly Ground shop brings in about 75 to 100 customers on an average weekday and is busiest around breakfast time.
For larger groups, there are multiple meeting rooms and an auditorium, Miller said.
“We left our careers to open up this coffee shop and serve these people,” Miller said. “I think people sense that immediately when they come in here.”
Miller formed the coffee shop with her husband, the Rev. Robert Miller. Now, Richard White and Yancy B. Wilmot are on staff at Walker Ministries as ministers.
White served in various other ministry capacities over the past several years before becoming part of the team in 2011. Wilmot is an ordained and licensed Southern Baptist minister who served in various churches as youth pastor, sports minister, pastor and staff evangelist before joining Walker Ministries.
Wholly Ground Coffeehouse is at 27988 Walker South Road, just off Interstate 12. It is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed on Sunday with the exception of the free coffee served for the public worship service at 5 p.m.
“People recognize that we’re part of their community,” Kristi Miller said. “We’re locally owned and I think people really want to come out and support that.”