Reverend Mike Baughman is hardly a church-pews-and-hymnals kinda guy. In fact, when I met him over muffins at the new Union Coffeehouse he co-founded, he was wearing blue jeans and a guayabera shirt. Phil Dieke, co-founder, seminary student and minister to college kids is even less conventional, with dreadlocks down his back and a look that says “footwear optional.”

Which is exactly why SMU students, recent grads and young urban hipsters are flocking to Union to grab a cup of joe, hang out with friends (or meet new ones), and ponder the meaning of life.

Union Coffeehouse is located at 5622 Dyer, down the block from Ozona Grill off Greenville Avenue. It’s not in Lakewood proper, but it’s close enough to get your caffeine fix on your way to work downtown, linger over the newspaper, gather your book club, or map out your strategy for attacking holiday shopping. Don’t worry that you’re not an SMU co-ed. Mike and Phil will make you feel welcome you, too.

Union has only been open two weeks and they’re still fine-tuning the menu, but the Trailmix cookies are delish and Empire Baking Company delivers goodies like chocolate croissants and currant scones each morning. They serve several flavors of Numi organic teas and they’ve learned that their audience prefers darker roasts, so they’re adjusting. Coming soon: lunch paninis and their new Turbo Chef machine, which crispy cooks Bagel Bites, edamame and pita chips for hummus.

The facility is a funky mix of cushy couches and comfy chairs, with one table slung low to the ground with pillows for sitting. There are two conference rooms for meetings or projects and a patio with wood-burning fireplace and cozy blankets. Board games and card decks are available, and there are common tables to encourage meeting new people. Patrons draw pictures and write notes to each other on glass walls with markers (one guy outlined his entire paper there – I’m pretty sure he got an A.)

Billing themselves “the best place to study in Dallas,” Union will offer “cookie and milk study breaks” and remake conference rooms into “serenity rooms” during finals.

The “Naked Stage” hosts storytelling most Friday nights at 9pm (75 people showed up last week) and Music Nights most Saturday nights (check the website for band names and details).

Union is more than a coffeehouse, it’s a ministry, and until it’s self-supporting, funding is via a patchwork of churches, foundations and individual private donors. Ten percent of revenue goes back to non-profit agencies and patrons are given opportunities to participate in service projects together. Baristas are chosen, not necessarily because of their coffee expertise (they can be trained for that, says Mike), but because “we believe God might do incredible things with them.”

“We teach them how to connect with people,” says Mike, “how to tend to people’s needs.”

Union is an example, says Mike, of “what the church could be.”

“We’re interested in getting outside the walls of the church to take care of the people in the community.”

Union opens at 7am weekdays, 8am Saturdays and 11am Sundays. They close at 11pm Sunday thru Thursday and stay open til midnight Friday and Saturday. During final exams, they’ll remain open until 2am for the convenience and support of students.

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