Saturday night, I found myself in the same place where I almost always end up on Saturday night ~ in a coffee house, finishing a sermon for the next morning. For better or worse, I was up later that night than I usually am, since I got sucked into a conversation with the table next to mine. Obviously, when they discovered my vocation, we talked faith and church and theology. But it wasn't because they found out what I do ~ they were deep into that conversation while I was still apparently plugged into my laptop.
I've found that the conversation they were having is not unusual for a this kind of venue. At least 50% of the time, when I'm in a coffeehouse or pub, I overhear someone talking about faith and God and belief and theology as they sip their cappuccinos or ales. In fact, it seems to me that folks have more far-reaching, and perhaps more honest, conversations in coffeehouses and pubs than they do in church buildings and at church events.
I'm not sure why (or even whether) this is true. However, here's my interpretation: In a church building with church people, we all feel like we have to remain within the bounds of (or at least not stray too far from) orthodoxy. In a coffeehouse or pub, there's no assumption that everyone does, or ought to, keep to the same belief system. At a church gathering, to make statements that approach the outskirts of orthodoxy might invite condemnation or scorn. As much as we might want them to be, churches (by and large) are not public spaces ~ they're reserved for 'believers'.
In a true public space, where the only agenda is conversation over drink coffee or beer, we tend to talk about those things that are at the heart of human existence ~ namely the interplay of faith and belief and the meaning of life. Especially when people are secure with their beliefs and open-minded, conversation is encouraged. Further, when no one is ostracized because of belief, conversation becomes deeper and more meaningful.