Sprague River is a place of divisions, and it has been for a very long time.
It starts geographically. If you live east of the river you are in Sprague River, but if you travel one mile west and cross the bridge, you are in Chiloquin. That means different tax bases, and fire districts, emergency services, and even postal delivery. But that’s just the beginning.
The area has an extended history of conflicts that have arisen between different groups that have each sought and fought to protect their own interests. Native Americans and white settlers. Loggers and environmentalists. Mills and railroads. Ranchers and government agencies. Developers and protesters. Organizers and the fiercely independent. The young and the old. The working and the retired. The haves and the have nots. The political left and the political right. Survivalists, fugitives, drop ins, drop outs, and then, of course, the truly “one of a kind” loners.
Then add to that a church split in the 1980s when the one larger congregation eventually became three, and even followers of Christ were worshiping on opposite sides of the street.
But the separation goes beyond that.
Sprague River, the town, is barely a wide spot in the road, but the “Sprague River Valley” covers far more than 100 square miles with few paved roads, and vast isolated stretches between homes. Many live “off the grid,” beyond the reach of power lines or even cell phone reception and a close neighbor might be “a couple miles” away.
So with all this diversity, separation, and difference, how could people come together at all?
For decades, much of this was equalized at the “cafe.” Located at the center of town for most of Sprague River’s history, there was this little restaurant that at various times was combined with the post office and/or a store. It was the meeting place, the gathering place, the business place, and the eating place.
A big, long table in the center of it all brought many different people together who could put aside the conflict of the moment and share a joke or a prayer or a cup of coffee together.
Was it always perfect, was there never a fight? No. But often it served as neutral ground, a place of compromise, and healing. It was a safe place where people felt welcome.
But then in 2008, the cafe closed. The building would eventually be sold to the county, which converted it to a branch library. But there would be no pancakes or burgers served there anymore. No big table. No neutral ground. No safe place to go.
Suddenly there was this huge and essential need in the community, and suddenly the Friends Church was a restaurant. From 2008 to 2011 we served upwards of 24 meals a month: breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. It was a lot of work and took a lot effort and resources. We had no plan or agenda, just God putting this thing in front of us that we stepped into.
Within weeks, the big table was filled again; people were laughing and debating, and conducting the town’s business.
There were no mandatory Bible lessons or sermons. There was no church membership required. Just good food served together at big tables, by friendly welcoming people who cared.
And although in recent months the pace has slowed to 2-4 meals a month, the meals still serve the same purpose: they continue to be a safe place for people to put down differences and share a table and a meal together.
When Jesus fed the people (including the loaves and fishes!), he didn’t say “feed the fisherman, but let the soldiers fend for themselves.” He didn’t say “make sure there are no Sadducees or tax collectors here. They will just fight.” He didn’t check to see if people were really needy because he knew everyone was needy.
He didn’t divide the people, or separate them, instead he brought them together and in his eyes they were all the same.
It’s a great model, and one we try to continue to keep in mind. So if you are ever in Sprague River, we hope you will join us sometime as we continue to open the doors to welcome all who would come and share the feast.