Over the past weekend, a group of protesters gathered outside a newly opened Jamaica Plain coffee shop to rally against the business’s connection to a local church startup that opposes abortion, gay marriage, and equality for transgender people.
The protests were sparked by the coffee shop’s affiliation with Public Church, a religious organization led by minister Amanda Oicle that is rooted in Christianity’s Wesleyan denomination. Oicle also runs the coffee shop. According to Universal Hub, on Saturday, February 11, multiple people with signs decrying the Wesleyan stances against abortion and same-sex marriage stood outside of Public Coffee Co, at 182 Hyde Park Avenue. “Public Coffee Says: ‘Relationships between persons of the same sex are IMMORAL and SINFUL,’” one sign read. “You belong here but only if you’re straight, cis, and anti-choice,” read another.
Lauren Doty Brown, a Jamaica Plain resident and the organizer behind Saturday’s protest, says that she first learned about Public Coffee Co’s connection to Public Church through a previous Universal Hub story in April 2022. “In a time when 45% of LGBT youth seriously consider suicide and where 40% of transgender people have attempted suicide, it would be immoral to ignore the mission of Public Church and Public Coffee and allow them to stay in our neighborhood,” Brown says.
“The ministry of Public Coffee continues to connect people to Public Church, a publicly and steadfastly anti-queer and anti-trans religious organization,” Brown continues. “As organizers and people who live in the neighborhood, we will continue to do whatever we can to prevent possible harm to LGBTQIA+ people in our neighborhood.”
Over 30 people came throughout the day to protest the coffee shop during its grand opening last Saturday, according to Brown. At its peak, Brown estimates that the protesters included a group of 15 to 20 people.
“I anticipated that there could be some questions about our motivation, and why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Oicle says. “And there were. And you know, we just kept reiterating, this is a space for all people.”
Prior to the Saturday protest, Oicle had noticed flyers posted in the neighborhood that called for a boycott of the coffee shop after it first opened in mid-December. (Brown, who posted the fliers in December and twice again in the past week, says that they have always been pulled down within about 24 hours.)
The coffee shop was also stocked with beans from local roaster Broadsheet when it opened, but the supplier severed ties after learning of the church’s beliefs and the shop’s connection to the church. “Before any protesting took place, we were contacted by a concerned customer,” says Broadsheet’s head of wholesale Marty Souza. “We investigated and discovered Public Coffee’s affiliation with core beliefs and values that do not align with our own company’s core beliefs and values. We quickly made the decision to terminate the relationship on these grounds and contacted Public Coffee immediately upon reaching this decision and prior to any protests.”
While it is not immediately clear on Public Coffee Co.’s website that the coffee shop is affiliated with the church, Oicle confirmed to Eater that the shop is owned by the church and was funded through donations from friends and family connected through Public Church. However, Oicle asserts that the coffee shop operates independently from the church — it has a separate bank account, operates under a separate LLC, and the money made from the coffee shop is not earmarked to support church ministries, she says. If the coffee shop makes any profit after paying for goods and labor, Oicle says the money will be donated to organizations working with returning citizens and fighting human trafficking, although she doesn’t expect the business to be profitable for a while.
As for the protesters on Saturday, Oicle says that while Public Church may diverge from the finer points of Wesleyan theology, she and the church hold “a historic Christian ethic when it comes to sex and marriage.”
“We understand the right to protest,” Oicle says. “We’re not upset about it.”
Brown says that, given that response, she plans to continue to organize future actions against the coffee shop.
“In communications I’ve had previously with the Public Coffee Co Instagram account, I requested that they leave the Wesleyan denomination and become an open and affirming congregation,” Brown says. “Unfortunately, they left me on read in their DM’s. After reading Amanda’s statement about the ‘historical Christian beliefs’ of Public Church in the Eater Boston post, it seems like my original request will not come to fruition. So, yes, I’d like Public Coffee Co to leave my neighborhood and so that an actual small business without a secondary motive can move in.”
This is not the first time that a coffee shop connected to a church has opened in Boston. The Well Coffee House, which bills itself as “a non-profit organization staffed by volunteers who desire to be a blessing to others” is connected to Church @ The Well in East Boston. The original location in downtown Boston has been open for nearly ten years; the team has since opened two more shops in East Boston and Everett.
Update: February 15, 2023, 5:11 p.m.: This article was updated to include comments from Lauren Doty Brown.
Update: February 16, 2023, 11:55 a.m.: This article was updated to include comments from Broadsheet Coffee Roasters.