By: Emily Conley
As soon as I opened the car door, I knew we were in the right place. We were looking for Masterpiece Cake Shop in Denver CO, to interview Jack Phillips for the July issue of Faith & Justice, and the sweet smell of freshly baked cakes wafted from the open doors of the bakery throughout the parking lot. If there was any lingering doubt about finding the right cake shop, that disappeared as soon as we set foot inside the “art gallery of cakes,” as a newspaper article described Masterpiece Cake Shop the year it opened. After over twenty years of business, the shop feels like a cross between an art gallery, a bustling coffee shop, and somehow a home.
The art isn’t limited to the impressive displays of sugar-sculpted masterpieces; photos of Jack’s children and grandchildren and their artwork cover the walls too.
Sitting at one of the tables with a cup of coffee in hand, I feel like I’ve been invited into his living room - a living room where friendly neighbors drop by every few minutes.
A shelf in the seating area where a Bible study group has met every week for twenty years offers customers a “Living Waters” devotional and study Bibles to peruse. His grandchildren’s toys are scattered across the floor, and his three granddaughters camp out at one of the tables nearby working on homework and creating more art for the walls. Their mom, Jack’s daughter Lisa, greets almost every customer by name.
The few unfamiliar faces have come for a reason: to support the cake shop in the midst of their legal battle. “If you were making kimchi with jalapenos, I’d buy it to support you,” says a white-bearded gentleman in a cowboy hat, as his wife browses the glass dessert case.
Out of the Cake Pan and into the Fire
Over some peanut butter brownies and cherry cake, Jack and his daughter Lisa told us about the day four years ago that everything changed for the family bakery, when two men asked Jack to design a cake for their same-sex wedding. He told them he’d sell them birthday cakes, cookies, brownies…but he doesn’t do cakes for same-sex weddings.
But within 20 minutes of the conversation with the couple, Jack answered the first of what would be thousands of angry phone calls. The business that had been a respected pillar of the community for over twenty years was now a target for protests, calls and emails filled with vitriol.
“But, are there other bakeries nearby?” I asked. Yes, as it turns out. There’s one quite literally across the street.
“People speculate that maybe they set us up,” Jack says. “But even if that is what [the same-sex couple] were doing, they didn’t realize that it was all part of God’s plan for us. God was using them to grow our faith.”
Brushstrokes of the Master
Long before this test of faith, Jack has seen God’s work throughout his life like the brushstrokes of a much bigger picture. From the way he and his wife came to Christ, to the journey of starting his own bakery (more on those stories in the next issue of Faith & Justice Magazine), God’s handiwork has been evident.
“God has always provided for us,” Jack says. A few examples: prior to the lawsuit, 40% of Masterpiece Cake Shop’s income came from wedding cakes. As a result of the lawsuit, they had to stop making cakes for any weddings. In addition to the emotional cost of not being able to participate in one of the most important events in their customer’s lives, they’ve had to cut back on staff, and Jack’s mother began helping out on a volunteer basis. And yet, so far, with the support from people across the state, and the country, their sales of cookies, brownies, and bars have been able to keep the doors open. When their story aired on a local radio station, supporters lined the sidewalks outside the bakery, waiting two hours just to get a cookie or brownie.
And on the day opposition had planned a protest at the bakery and Jack had jury duty, he was mysteriously dismissed due to a “glitch” in the computer system, which allowed him to be present at the bakery to reassure his family and employees.
“A lot of things like that have happened through this situation. You don’t not trust this God,” Jack says.
Thinking of the protests, the boycotts, the months of answering angry phone calls all day, the threats made against him and his family, I ask, “If you could go back to that day in the bakery, what would you do differently?”
“Nothing,” he says immediately. “I’d still be picking up my Bible once in a while with a mediocre faith, but God designed this to grow my faith.”
“We were asleep, and God allowed us to be awoken.”
The name of Jack’s shop comes from his theme verse:
“For we are God’s Masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He has planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 NLT
Sometimes our circumstances just look like a mess. From our perspective, it feels like nothing good could come out of what we’re going through, or what we see happening around us. But our perspective is the same as that of a canvas –we’re definitely not the one holding the brush. It’s only from a distance that we can see what The Artist is painting. Even then, we might not be able to understand His vision until the piece is complete.
Whatever the future holds for the Phillips family, their trust is in the Master.
Read more about the Phillips’ story in Faith & Justice, coming on July 11th.
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