A ministry steeped in favor

Norm?s Coffee Bar is a place for people to go who want their tummies warmed on a chilly winter day and a place to have their hearts and spirits warmed, as well.

The idea for the Newton coffee shop had been percolating for some time in the mind of Robert Palmer before it opened three years ago at 125 W. Sixth St.
?Our mission is to encourage each individual mentally, emotionally and spiritually one conversation at a time over an awesome cup of coffee,? Palmer said as the warm June afternoon sunlight filtered through a Norm?s window. ?One of our goals was to serve the community.?
And serve the community they do ? with coffee, treats, prayers and words of encouragement. For example, they?ve had people who received calls from doctors? offices about medical test results, asking them to come in right away, and before going to hear about the results, they?ve stopped at Norm?s for for encouragement and to receive prayers.
Norm?s is about encouraging and ministering to people, Palmer said, and everyone is made to feel welcome.
Before Norm?s came about, people involved did a community-needs assessment through Compassion by Design. Through the assessment, they found Newton has quite a few services, although there weren?t a lot of ?third places.? A person?s first place is his or her home, a second place is a person?s workplace, and third place is where people do community, Palmer said.

Robert Palmer (right) shares a laugh with customers Hope Flask (left) and Elena Flask in June at Norm?s. Palmer considers Norm?s his ministry.
Robert Palmer (right) shares a laugh with customers Hope Flask (left) and Elena Flask in June at Norm?s. Palmer considers Norm?s his ministry.

Palmer said he had an idea for a coffee-shop ministry in the mid-1990s. Putting that idea together with the lack of third places and an ?amazing group of people,? led to the development of Norm?s, he said.
The idea for the Norm?s name came from a movie, ?A Man Called Norman,? which was put out by Focus on the Family in the 1980s. It?s about a man who helps and befriends another man ? about someone helping someone else.
?It kind of reminds us why we?re there,? Palmer said.
Palmer is manager of the non-profit community coffee bar and leads a team of volunteer staff. Those in the fluid volunteer base, which has included hundreds of people, do a variety of jobs, such as cleaning, office work and preparing and serving coffee. Volunteers have included a variety of people, such as students in the summer and people between jobs. Relying on volunteer staff has forced Norm?s to have limited hours of operation. Norm?s hours are 7 a.m. to noon weekdays and also 7 p.m. to midnight Fridays. Most Friday nights, live music entertains the crowd.

?It?s been amazing,? Palmer said. ?It?s amazing how many have volunteered and helped.?
From the beginning days, seven families were involved, and it took two years to renovate the building, Palmer said.
Under the leadership of Palmer, the shop?s mission also is to foster Christian ministries, using the space as a venue for non-profit Christian ministries and other community organizations. It?s more about facilitating than direct ministry, Palmer said.
?(It?s about) creating an environment that allows those things to happen,? Palmer said. ?Our goal is not to have a Christian coffee shop but to have Christians run a coffee shop.?
Groups that meet there include Newton Young Professionals and The Gathering, which is a church that meets at 9:15 and 11 a.m. Sundays.
?We exist to love God and show his love with this wonderful city around us,? Brandon Eck, pastor of The Gathering.
In addition, a business, CrossFit 81 owned by Garrett and Maranda Whorton, is housed at the back of Norm?s.
?We?re always looking for ways to make it sustainable,? Palmer said.
Palmer considers Norm?s his ministry. He has been a senior pastor at a church, a children?s pastor and a small-group pastor. He also helped start New Anthem Community Church in Park City during the past year.

Robert Palmer prepares a refreshing beverage at Norm?s one summer weekday morning.
Robert Palmer prepares a refreshing beverage at Norm?s one summer weekday morning.

?They?re doing really well,? Palmer said. ?Now, we?re looking at where else we can help.? And by ?we,? Palmer means his wife, Cheryl, and the two children of their five who still are at home. Two of their children are in college and one graduated from college this past spring. The Palmers have resided in Newton for 15 years.
In addition to ministering at Norm?s, Palmer said he has spoken in several area churches.
After Palmer became a Christian, he said he felt a call to help people answer ?the big questions,? like what happens after we die, what?s the meaning of life and is there a God? He said when he became a Christian, he found the answers to those questions himself.
That goes along with Palmer?s philosophy of life, which is in the Bible.
?What it really is is love God and love others,? he said. ?I really think that?s what we?re made for.?

More things are planned for the shop?s future, like expanding the hours and adding brick oven pizza.
In addition to making coffee and pizza, Palmer said he likes to read and loves baseball.
?(The coffee shop) has a great vibe, and people really enjoy it,? Palmer said. ?We definitely need to expand our hours and become more sustainable.?
?Norm?s is our favorite place in the whole world,? Hope Flask of Halstead said. ?Love it. Love it. Love it.?
Flask was at Norm?s one June morning with her young daughter, Elena.
In addition to the Flasks, Norm?s attracts many ages, including the young. When young adults go on mission trips, for example, Palmer invites them to take a photo of a Norm?s travel mug wherever they are and post the photo on the Norm?s Facebook page or email it to him. If they do that, they can have the travel mug. Mugs have had their photos taken in a variety of countries, including Greece, Africa and France.
?We?re kind of world famous in a way,? Palmer said with a smile.
Even though the coffee mugs have been around the world, Palmer likes his feet planted in Newton.
?(I) just feel like Newton is just a place where really good things are happening,? he said. ?For us, it?s just we want downtown to be a thriving place where community is happening ? become the hub of what?s happening in Newton.?

His Cup Inc. oversees Norm?s. Board members are Randy Riggs, Racquel Thiesen, Mona Heinze, David Wuthnow, Linda Schroeder and Cheryl and Robert Palmer.

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