When Brett, MDiv ’19, and Laura Foote moved to Princeton, the couple felt God clearing a path for Brett to pursue his Master of Divinity. But Laura’s vocation and calling were not as clear.
At the Presbyterian church in Strasburg, Pennsylvania where Brett worked as director of student and young adult ministries, Laura had run a respite day for children affected by disabilities. The ministry brought together people from the church and the local community.
“I knew I felt led to work with people affected by disability; there was no doubt I was passionate about that,” Laura recalls. “I just didn’t know what that looked like.”
Upon Brett’s graduation from the Seminary, the Footes began an apprenticeship with the PC (USA)’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities, an initiative that equips church leaders to invest in new and varied forms of church for our changing culture. They were paired with a coach and connected with resources to help their specific church vision take shape.
“It can be good for your business, good for the community, and good for people when you give people affected by intellectual or physical disabilities a chance in the workplace.”
Brett works as a pastor and Laura is in the process of starting Lopi Coffee, an ability-inclusive specialty coffee roastery that supplies businesses, cafés, and home consumers. As the business moves forward, it will offer coffee education and a tasting room for the public to experience different coffees. Later down the road, the Footes will also start a new worshiping community in partnership with the coffee business, holding worship in its space and designing the service to be led by individuals with disabilities.
As well as elevating the craft of coffee, Laura’s roastery showcases a business model focused on working with and providing sustainable employment for people affected by disabilities.
“My brother has an intellectual disability,” Laura says. “He works hard. He’s a great guy. For the last four or five years, I’ve been realizing how hard it’s been for him to get a job that he’s passionate about.”
It’s not just her brother. Laura has worked in group homes and engaged in different ministries. She’s been frustrated to see “the lack of opportunity for individuals who are perfectly able and hardworking and passionate people, who simply want a job.”
To help pursue her goal, Laura took part in Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture Kenda Creasy Dean’s Hatch-a-thon, a two-and-a-half-day event for people looking to gain practical tools for getting an entrepreneurial ministry off the ground.
“It can be good for your business, good for the community, and good for people when you give people affected by intellectual or physical disabilities a chance in the workplace,” Laura says.
Brett also has a brother with an intellectual disability, a major reason he feels so strongly about learning to approach ministry with intentionality and humility. The Footes note that disability is a broad term that encompasses many different experiences, but they feel strongly that Christians — and the world in general — can learn much from people affected by disability.
They’ve been excited to learn from the work of Bethany McKinney Fox, a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and founding pastor of Beloved Everybody, a worshiping community for people affected by disability. “Folks affected by disability are in leadership, leading worship; they do different things for liturgy,” Brett says. “It’s beautiful.”
The couple took classes together, too, with Laura auditing courses like Lecturer in Youth, Church, and Culture Erin Raffety’s Ministry with People with Disabilities, and Professor of Pastoral Theology Deborah Hunsinger’s Trauma and Grace. Laura also worked as a research assistant for Raffety in the summer of 2018, studying how children who are nonverbal communicate joy.
“We saw our dreams intertwine while we were at Princeton Seminary, and that was really beautiful,” Brett says. “The final project we did for Dr. Raffety’s class was working on what we desired the culture to be of this roastery and this church. It was really beautiful having professors who dreamed with you.”
“Disability has kind of been on the outside of church,” Brett says. “What if folks affected by disability were welcomed into the church? What if they were a vital part of the congregation? What if they were in leadership?”