As I walked in the doors of Thistle Stop Café in Nashville, TN, I immediately felt the calm. I don’t know if I can fully describe it – it FELT peaceful…like a bit of an oasis.
I was introduced to the work and ministry of Thistle Farms by a friend who lives in the Nashville area. I learned even more about the development and plans of the café by reading The Way of Tea and Justice, by Becca Stevens, the founder of Thistle Farms (and Magdalene).
Thistle Farms and Magdalene (a 2 yr recovery program) were started for women recovering from violence, prostitution, trafficking, and addiction. Thistle Farms is an enterprise that provides job training and employment opportunities. The women create items that they sell – candles, paper made from thistles, lip balms, body lotions, hand soaps, room sprays, bug sprayers, essential oils, etc. They also sell teas, coffees, t-shirts, mugs, etc.
In addition, they work at Thistle Stop Café – as baristas and servers – their menu focuses on organic, locally sourced ingredients. Delicious sandwiches, salads and soups are served. Delicious teas (and coffees, although I’m not a coffee drinker ) are also available and freshly made/brewed. The friendly servers, the delicious food, and a steaming cup of tea to enjoy while visiting with friends and family made my visit to the café so memorable. The work of this organization made my visit one of incredible impact and something I came back to NJ knowing I wanted to share with others!
Thistle Farms began in 2001. While Magdalene provided the opportunity for recovery, many of the women found it difficult to find jobs because of their criminal history, trauma, and addiction (p3). Thistle Farms was born out of this need – to provide the women with employment that provided training, full-time living wages, and a healing community (p35). Thistle Stop Café was part of this vision.
The Café was gorgeous when I visited there – but not in an over-the-top expensive looking way – lots of light coming in from huge front windows, large, beautiful pictures of some of the women who had been a part of Thistle Farms, along with their story in small frames hung beside their pictures. Chandeliers of tea cups hung over several of the tables and by the baby grand piano in the corner. These chandeliers were fun and beautiful at the same time, each tea cup representing a story. When the plans for the café were coming together, people were asked to donate tea cups to the café – so many donated cups that had personal meanings….stories connected with events or friends and family members. All of these different cups, coming together, created more beautiful space. The whole café just felt “safe” – a place to visit, laugh, share and listen.
I had a second opportunity to go to the café when I was down in the Nashville area about a month later – this time with several friends and my husband and daughter. I was excited that my family had the chance to see this beautiful place as well – and to experience the friendly staff, delicious food and gorgeous atmosphere. It was a gift to be able to return.
“The first principle that needs to ground our community is hospitality. Hospitality is at the heart of the Benedictine rule, which helped form the spiritual practice of Magdalene and Thistle Farms. The café will be welcoming to guests because we recognize the dignity of every person. Each visitor will be considered a member of the community of Thistle Farms during their visit. To live into this principle, we need to create a warm and kind place where people feel their spirits as well as their bodies fed and loved. This principle can be lived in simple details like fresh flowers on every table, a large guest book for input and comments, fragrant oils diffused throughout the café, enough staff and volunteers to bring the tea to each table and take a moment to listen to the journey of how guests made their way into this space.” (p. 37) This paragraph, from The Way of Tea and Justice, describes perfectly the feel and look of the café. It really DOES feel like you’re coming HOME…or to someplace familiar and welcoming.
The work being done through Thistle Farms is hard work – but there is hope spread throughout the tireless volunteers and staff. The women are being served and supported, and because of this, they are able to serve and support others – it’s like that ripple effect of a rock in a lake. The vision of Becca Stevens and the supporters of Thistle Farms are reaching people all over the country and the world in ways they probably never expected. It reminds me of the verse in Jeremiah “Call to Me, and I will show you great and mighty things which you did not know (Jer. 33:3) – Thistle Farms is sharing the love of God with others who have been told a lie….a message that said they weren’t worth it, they deserved what they got, they couldn’t do any better….with the truth that they are valued, beautiful, capable, strong – and dearly loved – especially by a God who is crazy in love with them. That kind of Love really does heal!!
If you’d like to read or find out more information about the ministry of Thistle Farms, please go to their website – www.thistlefarms.org – or like their FB page. All of their merchandise is available through their website and, as I just found out this past week, they do have free shipping days! Take a moment to look over what they offer and, if you have the chance, support them through a purchase, or stop by if you’re in the Nashville area.