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Lazarus Tomb Coffeehouse still brewing strong after 35 years

| Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007

Lazarus' Tomb, believed to be the longest-running Christian coffeehouse in the United States, turns 35 this month. Operated solely on donations, this ministry has been guided by the same volunteer directors all these years.

On Saturday, the Tomb will observe its birthday, along with anyone else celebrating a birthday this month, during a party at the coffeehouse.

Now into its fourth decade, the Arnold-based Christian coffeehouse can be found in a storefront at 1708 Fifth Avenue, a place it has called home for 23 years.

In its early days, the ministry met anywhere it could, from a nursery room in a bowling alley, to Memorial Park in the summer, to five years in a former bank building.

Regardless of locale, the goal always has been the same -- to reach out to people in the Valley with dedicated enthusiasm and genuine concern for their spiritual and physical well-being.

The Tomb is not a church or a club. It does not have members or dues. The Tomb's regulars are people of all faiths, races, ages and educational and financial backgrounds. Their needs and interests vary, but they all are attracted by the spiritual atmosphere and Christian-based fellowship.

For some, it is a safe haven where youth can receive direction and guidance, as well as attention and affection. For others, it is a gathering place for like-minded Christians, providing them with acceptance and companionship.

Co-directors Robert and Rosetta Lecocq have been at the helm since its inception. What started out as a prayer group in people's homes morphed into a community-based Christian outreach. "The fact that they have been volunteering in this capacity for so long must seem incredible to most people. Why work so long and so hard, especially for nothing• Rosetta Lecocq explains, "As we got into it, our lives began to be shaped by the ministry. We saw the need, and the need is still there. The work goes on, so we can't leave."

Among other activities, the Tomb currently is home to weekly fellowships, Bible studies, prayer groups and children's programs. There is a street ministry and Christian entertainment.

Over the years, the programs and activities at the Tomb have varied and reflect our changing culture and the interests and needs of the people it serves. The Tomb has hosted aerobics classes for women and birthday and graduation parties, sponsored a drill team called the God Squad, held "Gong Shows" and participated in parades.

Those who frequent the Tomb are "do gooders" in the very best sense of the word. The Tomb has served Thanksgiving dinners for 20 years and invited children to experience the wonder and joy of Christmas at their annual party and program for the past 15 years.

Another annual Tomb event is a picnic, held last year at Larry Mussellman's farm in Allegheny Township. A supporter of The Tomb, Mussellman helped provide food, entertainment, games and horseback riding.

Indeed, it is the kindness and generosity of countless volunteers and supporters that have kept the doors of the Tomb open for so long, enabling the ministry to continue to provide services.

Rosetta Lecocq says," The good and giving people who believe in the work that you do continue to support us. It's mind boggling." Former regulars or folks who have heard about the ministry send in donations from everywhere, including Florida, Texas and Ohio. Facing an emergency at the Tomb in December, Rosetta was thrilled to discover a $1,000 donation in the mail just days before Christmas. "God takes care of things, sometimes miraculously," she says.

Currently, The Tomb is in need of a new van to replace a high-milage 13-year-old one. The Lecocqs, who always have trusted in the Lord, believe that, somehow, a van will be provided. Now that's faith. But, it's this kind of optimism, steadfast and unshakable determination and belief that has marked the lives of these two people.

Joanne McAtee, of New Kensington, has been a Tomb regular for 23 years. In fact, she and her husband Rick are one of more than 25 couples who met at the Tomb and later married. She praises the Lecocqs. "They are practical witnesses of Christianity," McAtee says. "I've seen them do things in their ministry that are way beyond what anyone else would do. They know who they are grounded in."

Arnold Mayor John Campbell feels the same way. "They are good and wonderful people. Their outreach has helped many distressed people over the years." Campbell says he understands why people are attracted to the fellowship of the Tomb. "I've been there a few times myself. People are just happy to be there. Anybody is welcome there anytime." Campbell believes the ministry has been an asset to his community. Others agree.

The Tomb and its ministry has been recognized and honored numerous times by the state House of Representatives, the State Senate, Arnold Chamber of Commerce and Westmoreland County Community College, for its outstanding community service, dedication and humanitarianism.

"The Tomb is the kind of place you want in your community. I hope they stay here and continue their work for another 35 years," Campbell says.

Bob Lecocq has no plans for going anywhere, anytime soon. Retired eight years from his job as a tool-and-die maker, he apparently does not see retirement from the Tomb in the near future. "We're still on our feet, and there's a lot more work to do."

He feels that the future of the Tomb is not up to him, anyway. "The same guy who's been telling us what to do for the past 35 years will tell us what to do about the Tomb in the future," Lecocq says.


Lazarus' Tomb

What: The Christian coffeehouse serves the community through programs, referrals, fellowship, outreach, concerts, Bible studies and prayer.

Where: 1708 Fifth Ave., Arnold

To contact the Tomb: Phone: 724-339-8888; fax, 724-335-8252; e-mail, laztomb@aol.com ; or mailing address, P.O. Box 4207, New Kensington, PA 15068

Scheduled activities

• Bible Study and prayer time with music and sharing. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays

• "Ready, Let's Roll," community outreach group that walks the streets, weather permitting, talking with people

• "Sparrows Outreach" delivers food to shut-ins, personal-care homes, senior citizen high-rises and people in need. Thursday afternoons and at noon every other Friday.

• General fellowship for all with music and food. 7:30 p.m. Fridays

• "Love Bears," children's program with crafts, story time and snacks. 8-9 p.m. Fridays

• Musical entertainment and fellowship. Programs vary from gospel to southern, contemporary and country. Soloists, groups and bands perform. Occasional open stage. 7:30 p.m. Saturdays. Concerts start at 8:30 p.m.

The nonprofit organization accepts donations from individuals, services clubs, businesses, churches and other sources.


Why Lazarus' Tomb•

The most frequently asked question about the Christian coffeehouse is how it got its name. Co-director Rosette Lecocq explains that Tomb regular Ralph Baker was a spelunker, one whose hobby is exploring caves. One day in 1972 as he emerged from a cave, going from extreme darkness into light, he said he felt like Lazarus, a man who was raised from the dead and brought back to life. At the time, Baker suggested the fledgling ministry be called Lazarus' Tomb, where people can move from darkness into light and where the spiritually dead are brought back to life.


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