Photography by: Alaina Walder
I suppose I would consider myself a spiritual person. Perhaps not in the most conventional, clear-cut way, but in an overarching, ongoing journey type of way. It has been during that journey that I have met some of the most fascinating people. One such human being is Reverend Sam Hubbard. The first thing I noticed about Sam was that he doesn’t immediately look like a pastor, at least not any pastor that I had met in my life. My parents chose the Methodist church for our family when I was in the third grade. It was kind of an odd left turn into the world of religion having grown up until the age of ten with no spiritual beliefs at all. It was an adjustment. We attended a fairly large Methodist church in our area and there I was faced with not only learning to fit in socially, but spiritually, into a world that I had never been exposed to. Because of my standoffish personality as a child, I mainly lived on the fringe of church culture, observing from the outside. I didn’t exactly adapt well. I already had enough difficulty fitting in at the small private school that I attended, but being thrown into the waves of an unfamiliar peer group proved even more daunting. Our youth group was an impressive size, it was easy to get forgotten, lost, and socially left behind for someone like me. At some point, I made the decision to attend as bare minimum church as my parents would allow me, and back away slowly once I left for college.
That plan definitely worked. I successfully cut ties with pretty much everyone I had ever met at that church and over a course of many years developed my own set of spiritual beliefs that bring me much joy even today. It wasn’t until I returned from college with my brand new fiancé in tow, that I started the regular church circuit again. It was less of a want to go back but more of a social pressure that I was feeling from being home. There was also the pressing matter of finding a pastor to officiate my impending wedding ceremony. I met Sam my first Sunday morning back in those sage green lined pews, feeling awkward and skittish and uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure that I was going to find what I was looking for or literally anyone I could relate to enough to allow them to share my wedding with. I was insanely untrusting at this point.
That Sunday happened to be Sam’s Sunday to preach. Apparently he had begun working at my home church in my absence. I had never seen him before. Tall and a bit lanky, Sam wore the smartest outfit I had ever seen on a pastor. He was covered in tattoos and decided to center his entire sermon around his love for cultivating his own coffee. I remember leaning over to my now husband and saying, “Is this person actually a pastor?” “Are pastors allowed to have tattoos?” “That’s the one, that’s the guy I want to marry us.” After the service I forced my even shyer than me fiancé to go talk to him. It wasn’t even that day that we asked him to officiate our service, I think it took several weeks to present the discussion over e-mail. It was a most auspicious arrangement, for both my husband and I met a friend, and someone who we both most ardently admire and look up to.
As expected, Sam is different than any spiritual leader I’ve met. Every time I speak to him he feels less of a pastor and more of a warrior for humanity. It’s funny how words can hold associations, how they can be used to build walls or bridges. For Sam, I choose warrior. And his story, his thoughts, have changed my life. Sam no longer works at the church in which we crossed paths. He has moved on to pioneer a larger undertaking at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. His ministry is housed at his own Kairos Koffeeshouse, the physical manifestation of his passion for cultivating coffee and serving others. It is a one-story brick building nestled along West Dakota St, running through the college campus. It houses a sanctuary with stained glass windows, a kitchen, a common area for students, and the coffee nook, equipped with an impressive espresso machine and coffee-themed décor, including a massive clock made from small brassy coffee cups. I, shamefully, haven’t been to Kairos Koffeeshouse since its conception. This is my first time.
We have chosen Wednesday to arrive, which is a free lunch day for the ministry to feed the students of SLU. There is a group of familiar faces from our old church community serving meals out front, and a group of students pouring over their laptops in hushed community in the common area. Sam is in a meeting. He is wrapping up his doctorate at the moment, along with having his hands in several different projects. This type of manic energy, the train that stops for no man, is something I have come to identify with not only my friend but myself as well. We have this in common. However, he is the type of human that fills his life with unending purpose. I strive to be more like that. As he gives us a tour of the sanctuary he gives us strict instruction, “Do NOT take pictures of this, it’s insane in here right now.” He laughs. The sanctuary space as well as the kitchen space is currently housing a massive amount of clothing and food donations for the campus charity shop concept that will soon be piloted by his ministry. He is also taking over their food pantry. He sees the chaos, but I also see the potential. There is a lot happening here.
I feel like we have both told our stories to each other on many different occasions and each time I learn something new. Each time he gives me something else to think about, something more to consider. From our first meeting I have made it clear to him that I do not identify as a Christian, that I have purposefully made distance between the Church and myself. Every time, he accepts this. He doesn’t push me to decide differently or to be anyone other than who I am. Perhaps that is because we have a common understanding. “I wasn’t raised in the church,” He begins. “In fact, because of several life experiences I was a staunch atheist most of my life. It was when I met REAL Christians and experienced REAL church that I met a very REAL Jesus. Now, my purpose for existence is two-fold.” He feels strongly that God not only sends us those that are most in need, the forgotten and unseen, but that God also calls us to go TO those people, to seek them out. It is this exact concept of meeting people where they are that is familiar to me as a social worker. It is his belief in an all-encompassing God, Universe, spiritual source, that makes our life philosophies jive.
“I know for me, from my perspective, I tend to be a little more ‘open’ than most Christian leaders. In theological circles, I would call myself a ‘panentheist’. God is not everything, but God is IN everything. Because of that, it’s hard for me not to see God, Christ, Jesus in everyone and everything. And yes, that means other religions and faith traditions as well. I happen to think, and have experienced, that Jesus’ way of life was the truth, the best way to live life. Maybe another way to say it would be: I think Jesus revealed to us how to be fully human.” To be summed up, “mystery is not something you cannot know, mystery is something that you will endlessly know”. These are the types of ideas that he presents that I find myself meditating on. He shares these beliefs through the very practical acts of caring for the students that wander into his coffeehouse. These are acts of love that have long been traditional in the Church, the Wednesday meals, and the fellowship over coffee. They are things that are familiar to me, perhaps values that I have unconsciously engrained in my own family traditions. “We have one unifying mission statement: ‘We exist to feed the students, faculty, and staff of the university body, mind, and soul.’ Kairos Koffeeshouse, at first glance, would meet ‘body’…which it does. But through all the conversations shared in Kairos over a tasty beverage, we have seen people’s minds and souls fed as well.”
Sam is most definitely a conversationalist and holds regular debates in discussion groups. It is perhaps this acceptance, this hot take on faith, the willingness to discuss real issues, to accept the failures, celebrate the victories, and to work towards change that sets Sam a part. “I think we need to clarify that what broader society sees as the Church, is not the church at all, it’s a club. The true Church, those that are truly following Jesus and living and loving like Him, they’re crushing it. So much healing, restoration, and hope being brought into the world. Unfortunately, it’s not flashy or attractive; it’s hard, messy, and slow. Once again, ‘the club’ is doing all kinds of stuff wrong. Real harm! Being a Christian is not about going to church, giving money, or serving. It’s a way of life; it’s a way to see the world and others in it. I’ve had A LOT of failures, but the victories, or fruit, have made it so worth it. My fruit are the people that I have discipled, modeled and lived the Jesus way of life for, over the years. It’s so beautiful to watch them discover who God really is and who they really are. So beautiful to watch them love the world and themselves. So beautiful to watch them then go do that for others. Nothing is better and makes every failure worth it.”
Sam sees “the lost sheep” as his flock and has made it his business to show those who have been rejected and misunderstood that they are wanted. “It’s more for people that don’t know who God is and don’t know who they are. I just want people to come to know who God is and who they are meant to be.” For Sam that is a daily initiative, to bring people closer to Source, to bring them closer to home. The rocket fuel behind that is always hope, the greatest force that drives humanity. “Hope. That means a lot in my faith tradition. Ultimately, my faith promises that one day everyone will indeed come to know and be connected to God fully, and ultimately come to know and be connected who they really are, as well as one another. This has already happened with Jesus coming. And yet, it has not yet been fully realized. I hope that I can help move our planet one step closer to see that hope fully realized.”
Sam and I have talked endlessly about acceptance in the Church. It is a current hot button issue that has changed many attitudes towards the Christian faith in recent years. This slow decent towards exclusive and harmful behavior has long been a gripe, and even the source of major trauma among many individuals. It would account for why many young people today have left their Christian roots in search of something more peaceful. “As far as the church becoming more open, that is something I desperately long for. What’s sad to me is that the Church has historically always lead society into new ways of thinking and serving. Did you know hospitals were invented by a Christian? Did you know Christians were the first and most vocal about ending slavery? That’s just a few. The church historically was all about welcoming in, and going to the outcast and standing on the side of those being oppressed. I long for those days. We still are doing it, but once again, I think the primary narrative and example being set is ‘Club Christianity’. This isn’t even true Christianity.”
I have often wondered this. When did a doctrine full of love and acceptance and acts of service become so muddled with oppression, prejudice, intolerance, and abuse? When did this concept of Universal and connected love become so much about very human traits such as hate and greed? It was for all of these reasons that I left to find a higher state of being. But talking with Sam always brings me around to a sense of hope. That a pastor and someone like me, so forever questioning and exploring and uncertain in my belief, can sit across the table and can agree on so much. In fact, it is very affirming to know that we can wear different labels, yet we can still be connected to one another.
Between working his ministry on campus and as father and husband at home, Sam is always listening and learning. He continuously learns about unconditional love and service through his wife Dana, his own children, and the students that he serves on campus. There is always something to look forward to, a new project, a new idea, a new avenue to explore. His new major endeavor is branching out from campus ministry to helping all of Hammond meet their base needs. “I think the big thing is starting a secular 501c3 that will specifically exist to serve young adults in the Hammond area who are experiencing any type of insecurity: financial, food, housing, mental, physical, and/or community.” It is here that we circle back to caring for the unseen, the underserved, and the unwanted. It is perhaps more than a Christian calling but a human calling that unites all of us.
After all, Sam always says, “God loves y’all. There is literally nothing you can do, or will do, good or bad, that will ever change that.”
You can follow Sam’s ministry on both Instagram and Facebook as well as Kairos Koffeeshouse on Instagram and Facebook. They are still taking clothing donations for the Lion Pride Career Closet that help at risk people seeking employment find clothing for the job search process. They are also taking food donations for the Lion Pride Food Pantry. All donations can be dropped off at the Wesley.
307 W Dakota St, Hammond, LA 70401