by Marci Narum | Photography: Dwayne Walker
With a paintbrush in one hand, and a watercolor block in the other, Tracy Brandjord tells a small group of women, “The most common question is, ‘How do you start?’”
The women have gathered around a table covered with paintbrushes, watercolors, ink pads, and small watercolor blocks. It’s an introduction to Art Worship. Tracy tells them there are no rules for getting started; the women have the freedom to choose a favorite devotional, a journal, or even pages of their Bible as a place to paint or draw images that give meaning to the words on the paper.
The pages of Tracy’s own Bible are covered in artwork. She opens it to Second Timothy, where the page is embellished with colored pencil drawings; flowers, flourishes, and a sketch of a woman wearing a long, flowing skirt. The word “Entrusted” is the focal point; the words of chapter one, verse 14 are handwritten across the page:
Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
“It speaks to me about what He is calling me to do,” Tracy explains.
A Dream Unfolds
For many years, Tracy has been listening closely for that calling. She is the mother of four children and is married to a farmer. They live north of Bottineau, North Dakota, on Lake Metigoshe. Tracy says when her kids got to a certain age, they didn’t need her as much; her job as a mom slowed down considerably. Tracy suddenly didn’t know her purpose.
“I got lonely. When you’re doing your kid thing you have those moms and when you’re not doing that anymore you just don’t have that connection.”
That’s when her husband, Wally, asked her to describe her dream job. Tracy told him it would be to have a women’s ministry and a coffee shop. Wally encouraged her to go for it. After years of dreaming and planning—her kids are now old enough to help with some of the work—Tracy opened Penelope’s Place on June 1, 2016.
One wouldn’t expect to find a coffee shop in the basement of the Sawmill Corner Stop—a gas station and convenience store on the road to Lake Metigoshe. But as it turns out, people are finding much more than coffee at Penelope’s Place.
“I think if you put coffee between two women there is warm conversation and time to linger and talk about things.”
Tracy says the conversations at Penelope’s Place come naturally, and as a result, faith and friendships have been brewing along with the coffee and lattes.
“I probably stopped on my way to town six to eight months ago,” Jodi Keidel shares. “I did not know Tracy. I had just heard a new place was opening up and I love coffee. The more I stopped the more I got to know Tracy. She’s such a delight. She invited me to different things which was nice, being fairly new to the community. I have met a lot of fun, new people.”
“I don’t want people to think they are coming into a church because I think that is intimidating for a lot of people,” Tracy says. “But when you come in here conversations are free to go in those directions if that’s what they’re needing and it’s amazing how many people do go there.
“There are people who come in quite frequently and sit in the corner with their headphones on and do their thing. And they’ve become friends because they’ve had that conversation.”
Tracy says there is a common theme for those who find comfort and connection while sharing their stories over a cup of coffee at Penelope’s Place: they are hurting.
“A lot of women resonate with rejection. They have felt not welcome or not good enough to come to a church. I’m very passionate about speaking to the loneliness and the rejection they have. As women we want to do all the right things for our kids and our marriages, and when those things don’t go exactly as you planned, it’s hard to walk back into a space of saying, ‘I can do this.
“They ask, me, ‘how did this work for you?’ I tell them a lot of it is grace that I didn’t know was available to everybody. I didn’t know that was part of religion. I thought it was obedience all the time. And if there was no obedience then you didn’t measure up and there was no redemption.”
Answering the Call, Finding Friendship
Tracy has developed new friendships with the people who have made Penelope’s Place a regular stop. She also discovered her purpose and calling.
“There are so many things I didn’t know about church and about God. But as my Pastor told me, He doesn’t call the prepared, He prepares the called. He is using me in all my brokenness. He can use all of us.”
Women are discovering the truth of God’s grace as they hear His word in Bible study groups with Tracy. She also leads weekly study groups with high school students from her congregation, Metigoshe Lutheran Church.
“One of the groups is grades nine through 12 and it’s all girls. We call it GIRL—God in Real Life. These girls don’t just need to do church on Sundays, they need to know who God is on Monday afternoon when they’re in the lunchroom and somebody’s being left out.
“And then I have seventh and eighth graders. I told the kids you need to name your group. They came up with GLOW. They wanted to be the light. GLOW stands for God Loves Our World.”
Metigoshe Lutheran supports the youth group ministry while the women’s ministry programs are funded in part by a grant from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“We’re buying Bibles and we’re doing Art Worship with women. It is amazing and moving and fantastic. It’s a safe place for people to go. It’s a coffee shop that you can go and get in the Bible.”
“It’s special,” Kim Kvernum says with a smile. “A fun place to meet new people. And half the time I don’t know what I’m coming up here for but it ends up being a blast!”
Even for those who aren’t sure about where to start when picking up a paintbrush to embellish their Bible, there is grace.
“A lot of people think they are not creative. But I tell them we are made in God’s image and He is very creative; He makes beautiful sunsets and all kinds of beautiful things. So we are creative. We start slow with paintbrushes and do all sorts of things in our Bibles, and they’re really beautiful.
“We’ve started Bible studies for moms and daughters, moms and sons, and new mothers. When you can speak into a woman and change her life, she changes those around her.”