A Place Where You Are Known

Jun 2, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Ministry Musings, Strolling The Town, Tom Sims

by Tom Sims

Each week we’d hear the same tune through the 80s—-the theme song for the TV show Cheers, set in a Boston neighborhood bar that functioned as a “third place” for its regulars, a home-away-from-home and a place away from work where they could hang out and be accepted. A place where they are known.

Every day, Tuesday-Saturday, at 4141 N. Fresno St. in Fresno, that same scene is repeated without the beer and the bar. People walk into Caryl’s Cottage Thrift Boutique and Joseph’s Java Junction and are greeted warmly, often by name, and always with friendly familiarity. They stop by to visit, to shop, to sit, to sip, to read, to work on the Internet, to share ideas, or to volunteer. It is more than a thrift shop, bookstore, or parish coffee bar. It is a community.

Since the early 80s in California, I have been a part of churches that collect used items and gave them away. When I came to Fresno, to Baptist Temple Church in 1996, we continued the tradition with “Free Stores” at various times of the year. Baptist Temple went through various transitions. We started calling ourselves, The Fellowship of Joy, began to welcome multiple churches to our facility, and developed a number of community ministries. A wonderful lady in our church, Caryl Borges, caught that vision and, along with her husband, Bob, and numerous volunteers, expanded our “clothes closet” and outreach. Later, it occurred to us and one of our volunteers, Ruth Finney, that people needed “things” all year round and not just during holidays. We also realized that they would be willing to pay something for what they needed and that it would give them a sense of pride and dignity to do so.

The ministry expanded to a once-a-week thrift store. During that time, Caryl lost her long, courageous battle with cancer and Ruth, along with others, continued the ministry deciding to name it after Caryl. It continued to grow in space, clientele, quality, and days open. One day, it occurred to us that our place did not look or smell like a thrift store. The items being sold had to meet a certain standard. It wasn’t a thrift store; it was a boutique. We could lift our neighborhood by offering a shopping experience that was unlike others within walking distance. Thus, we began calling it Caryl’s Cottage Thrift Boutique.

People were hanging around so much and we were collecting book donations, so we decided to open a used book shop with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and packaged snacks for people who decided to make it their home. We set up wireless internet, created comfortable seating, and installed a community computer. On any given day now, people stop by to look for or discuss books. I moved my “office” to the bookstore lobby and can be found there most days.

In the beginning, no one got a paycheck. Even today, the manager, my wife, Andrea Sims, is a full-time volunteer. My time working in the store is in addition to my job as pastor and CEO of our non-profit. Several of our church members give multiple hours as volunteers. Members of the community also volunteer. However, we have been able to convert four of our volunteers into part time employees as well and that is part of our community vision.

Caryl’s is a place where people can be accepted as they are, where they can be encouraged, prayed for, or just left alone to shop. But it is difficult to remain anonymous for long. There is another place like Caryl’s.

People come to Joseph’s Junction and call me Joseph. I explain that there is no Joseph here and they ask what the name is about. I then get to explain how one day I was in my office thinking about our church’s mission when the lights went on.

As a traditional church doing business as usual, we were in decline. As a host to four congregations and a number of other ministries, we were a hub of activity. We knew we had been called to be stewards of our “space” and servants of our neighborhood. We had a “theology of place.” I was asking myself what it was about our place that made us unique. Our neighborhood does not even have a name!

So, I thought about our address: 4141 N. Fresno St. and decided to do a Bible search for a book with a 41 chapters and 41 verses in the 41st chapter. There is only one in Genesis 41:41: “And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.”

The rush of adrenalin confirmed everything. This was about community development, blessing the communities where we lived, and exercising influence by bringing people together to meet mutual needs. Whatever we could do to create space for people to meet, to facilitate community, and to birth new ministries in Jesus’ Name, was part of that Joseph function. That is how we came up with the name for our facility and for our new Community Benefit Organization: 4141 Ministries. And that is why some of the best organic coffee, most affordable books and friendly conversations in town converge at Joseph’s Junction (Sit, Sip, Share).

We weigh our books and sell them for 5 cents an ounce. Our paperback novels often sell for 5 cents each.
Down the walkway in Caryl’s Cottage, Andrea, Carol, Ann, or Cheryl might greet you. They will gladly answer your questions. If you come during a change of seasons, you might be taken off-guard by the low prices on season-end garments. You might find a treasure. You could find furniture. What you can never be guaranteed is that what you see today will be there tomorrow. Andrea and her staff like to keep things moving and are constantly rearranging. She would like for you to know that you are at home when you come.

She would also like for you to know that we live by and appreciate donations. If you drop them off, that is appreciated. If you need for us to come get them, we will. Call us during business hours at 559-229-9379 and we will make the arrangements. We turn nothing down. If we cannot use it, we have places where we donate. We save you the sorting and decision-making.

Andrea says that our slogan is “boutique shopping at thrift store prices.” She adds, “Come join the experience.”

We use volunteers to sort clothing and other items, to do data entry, and perform other skilled tasks.
We host meetings such as Central California Urban Chicken Keepers, Mid Valley Baptist Pastor’s Wives, and Federal Toastmasters. On campus, 4141 ministries hosts parenting classes for the County of Fresno and Doc’s Huge Free Therapy Group (and Anger Management) every Saturday at 9 a.m.

Currently, we are home to the Fellowship of Joy, Hmong Baptist Church of Fresno, Iglesia Nueva Vida, and New Beginnings Community Baptist Church. We are also in the pre-launch process for a new church: Freedom Community Church. Living Bread Ministries, focusing on helping people get access to healthy foods, is in its infant stages as are a number of other initiatives.

The mission of 4141 Ministries is to convene communities, collaborative, and congregations. Surprisingly, a lot that dreaming, planning, networking, and convening happens over a book, a conversation, an item off the shelf, or a passing conversation at Caryl’s Cottage or Joseph’s Junction.

It starts with knowing your name. It is all about relationships. Stop by and see for yourself.
The stores are open Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. till 3 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m..
Phone – 559-229-9379
4141 N. Fresno St., Fresno, CA. 93619
Email – pastortomsims@gmail.com
Join us on Facebook:
Caryl’s Cottage: http://4141ministries.weebly.com/josephs-java-junction.html
Joseph’s Junction: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Josephs-Java-Junction/117485965004081

Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. His congregation, “The Fellowship of Joy,” is part of a larger collaborative called “4141 Ministries,” of which he is Executive Director & he is an active Toastmaster. You can also find him on Facebook.




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