By Suzan Braun
She doesn’t remember having tea parties as a child; it was coffee with Barbie and Midge. Growing up on a farm, there was always work to be done and being the oldest of three, Laura Leathers was more often found helping her father pour concrete (not tea), clean out the barn, chase the cows, mend the fences, and tend the garden. Years later, a lesson from her daughter Emily and husband Jack brought tea time and the ministry of “touching lives through taking tea” into Laura’s life.
When Emily was 5, she asked her dad if they could have a tea party. Overhearing the request, Laura thought to herself, “We certainly don’t have time for tea parties; we have work to do on this farm!” Immediately following that thought, something pierced her heart, saying, “You are absolutely right, you don’t have time and you are the one missing out on creating memories with your daughter.” She watched her husband and daughter pour apple juice into cups, and go back to his chair in the den and sip their pretend tea. Laura now remembers this as a defining moment that God used to teach her about slowing down to savor special times and extend His love and care to others.
Tea Time Treasures
Laura’s tea ministry began during the summer of 1995 when she invited family and friends to her very first tea party. The enthusiastic response to this event led her to begin teaching classes from her Pickens, Mississippi home on the art and history of taking tea. Others asked Laura to help them plan tea celebrations, so she began sharing how to minister to women through tea time. From such humble beginnings, Tea Time Treasures was born. Its focus is to assist in areas of ministry, missions, and evangelism where tea can be used as a tool for these opportunities. Laura’s writing and speaking are also a part of this unique ministry to women all over the country. She has authored and contributed to several books, and published articles in the Proverbs 31 Newsletter, Tea Room Guide and Digest, and Just Between Us magazine. Other components of Tea Time Treasures include the My Cup Overflows Tea Room and Gift Shoppe, Royal Ladies Tea Society, and the Teacups and Friends newsletter.
Laura is also passionate about reaching out to others in creative ways. Gulf Coast residents have remained on the hearts and minds of everyone through the months following Hurricane Katrina, especially Laura’s since she lives in Mississippi. No one was untouched by the ravages of the hurricane. So many women lost all of the beautiful, meaningful things that they loved. Another mission of Tea Time Treasures is to offer hope and friendship through biblical hospitality. This mandate made it easy for Laura to respond enthusiastically when asked to partner with “Cups of Grace - Teacups for Touching Lives,” a project to reach women who have been victims of the hurricanes. The idea is simple. Women send a beautifully-wrapped teacup and saucer with a note of encouragement and hope to hurricane victims. Someone else (a hostess) delivers this elegant gift of love and shares tea while visiting her. The teacup and saucer are given to women as a beautiful reminder of God’s grace, with a prayer of encouragement that the Lord will once again fill her cup to overflowing.
JBU enjoyed talking with Laura about all the facets of her unique ministry and how God has used her passion for tea and excitement for sharing God’s love to encourage women to study the Word of God and move forward in ministry.
JBU: How do you ‘touch lives through taking tea’?
Laura: This phrase is actually the mission statement for my ministry. When I think about this phrase, I think about Jesus. No matter where He went or what He was doing, it was all about touching people’s lives—drawing people to Himself. His touch brings healing to our sin-sick hearts. Jesus was never in a hurry; He always took time with people. ‘Taking tea’ is more than drinking a beverage with someone. Over a cup of tea women can sit down together, share what’s on their hearts, and slow down from the frantic pace. There is actually time to laugh, learn, and listen. I wish I could remember all of the times I’ve touched a woman’s hand across the table from me, or gotten up and given a hug, or laughed or cried with her, or bowed heads to pray. ‘Touching lives through taking tea’ is about creating spontaneous moments to share heart to heart with another woman, to invest your life into the life of another.
JBU: Tell us about the special party God used to bring healing, affirmation, and direction to you for ministry.
Laura: I became a Christian at a summer Bible camp when I was around the age of 12. Later, God brought a Titus 2 woman into my life who I learned so much from. One summer, she invited some friends to her home for a week-long slumber party. The five of us who attended didn’t know each other and after several days, I started comparing myself to them and realized that I was a nothing. None of them tried to make me feel that way; it was the trap I was in. During an afternoon together, just as if someone were reading my negative thoughts, one woman said, “I want to stop this conversation for a moment and affirm who each of you are in Christ.” Those were words I had never heard before, so I began to weep. For me, it was breaking free from bondages that had held me captive for years. The rest of the week was truly a time of realizing who I was in Christ! I left that week with the affirmation of a new ministry that would involve tea and encouraging women in their identity in Christ. Where would my life be today if I hadn’t gone to that party?
JBU: How did you develop a passion to minister to women?
Laura: I believe it is a calling from the Lord. God plants it in your heart and it grows slowly. Through some women’s ministry classes I have taken and various conferences I have attended, God made it evident that He was calling me out of my comfort zone and was placing me in ministry. This passion grew from my own personal need. I still find the basis of my ministry is to share and encourage women to realize who they are in Christ Jesus. God never asks for our abilities, only our availability. Therefore, we become women He can use - and how creative are the ways He uses us!
JBU: Tell us about women’s friendships and why it’s important for women to connect.
Laura: It’s important for women to have friendships because it’s biblical. God has placed a built-in need for companionship within us. Look at the relationship between Ruth and Naomi. What a wonderful illustration of mentoring, friendship, accountability, trust, sacrifice, and simply being a helper to each other. Other biblical examples include Elizabeth and Mary, and Martha and Mary. Friendship provides arms to console and hug, a heart to understand when it seems like no one else does, and feet to walk along beside us when we are going through trials, and even celebrations. God weaves our lives together, strengthening old friendships and creating new ones.
These days we really have to work at friendships because we are all so busy. A time for tea is a way to connect.
JBU: How do you integrate tea and all that goes with it into principles of ministry and outreach?
Laura: The principles focus on how I can teach and encourage women of all ages the importance of implementing biblical hospitality within their homes, communities, and the marketplace. Tea is a tool, one avenue we can all use. Offering and sharing a cup of tea has given me many opportunities to witness, share the gospel, teach from the Scriptures, pray with women, and encourage others to simply savor an afternoon moment with God.
JBU: How do you practice hospitality today, especially biblical hospitality?
Laura: I am continuing to learn more about the differences between entertaining and biblical hospitality. This knowledge has come as I have studied the Bible, read various books on the subject, and seen it modeled. Biblical hospitality is much more than entertaining. The main focus is on relationships - especially our relationship with Jesus Christ - instead of the stuff. It is a way to serve and show genuine concern for others in our homes. Tea Time Treasures exists to teach on this subject and encourage women to implement these values into their daily lives. It continues to be an awesome journey reaching out to others through biblical hospital-tea!
JBU: How do you blend the history of tea into the ministry?
Laura: There are a lot of books on the market today about the history of tea. However, my focus has always been on Queen Victoria. She is credited for establishing etiquette rules and bringing it to the art form that we know it to be today. When she became queen at the age of 18, she knew Divine Appointment placed her upon the throne. She was the longest reigning queen and served for 63 years on the British throne. She survived seven assassination attempts; I think she needed a cup of tea to settle her shaking nerves. More missionaries were commissioned under her reign than at any other period of time in England — people like David Livingstone, Alexander MacKay, Mary Slessor, and James Hudson Taylor.
JBU: What has been your most memorable tea experience?
Laura: It took place on February 28, 1998. My friend Toni invited me to her church. Ellen Stamps, who had been Corrie ten Boom’s traveling assistant and secretary for nine years, was the main speaker. I was to share some thoughts about tea and coordinate a tea party for the women after the seminar. Ellen and I just seemed to connect. Throughout the day she shared tidbits about her years with Corrie. She mentioned that when they would have tea, Corrie would say it was just a "foretaste of heaven." After Corrie’s death, Ellen inherited three of her notebooks, filled with personal notes and speeches. Later that evening, she tore a page from one of those journals and gave it to me! I was speechless and felt so unworthy accepting something of such value. Yet I have shared this piece of priceless history and the Scriptures and notes from it over and over again. Ellen’s picture is in the book Tramp for the Lord with Corrie and Ruth Graham having tea together!
JBU: What is a tea society and how does your tea room and shoppe function?
Laura: A tea society is a group of 8 to 12 women who meet for a specific purpose. Many tea societies gather at least once a month for tea and fellowship, and sometimes, Bible study and prayer. Through Tea Time Treasures, we have started the Royal Ladies Tea Society. Our motto is “Serving the World through Biblical Hospitality One Person at a Time.”
The gift shoppe and tea room, located in a small historical building behind my home, specialize in mail order tea accessories, Lady Laura’s Tea Time food products, custom designed gift baskets, theme teas and special events, luncheons, and the art and history of tea etiquette classes.
JBU: How can a women’s ministry start a tea ministry?
Laura: Always begin with prayer. Ask yourself how and why God is leading in developing a tea ministry for your women. Is it for outreach, or a part of your weekly Bible study, or a way to minister to the widows, or to celebrate the season with a cup of Christmas tea? Look at what others are doing and get creative ideas. There are now several wonderful books on the market that highlight how to incorporate a tea ministry into an overall women’s ministry. You can check out your local Christian bookstores or the Internet.
Laura’s story is really God’s story and how He has chosen to work through her. Perhaps Dr. Rhonda Kelley, the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Professor of Women’s Ministries says it best. “Laura is a caring friend, loving encourager, and gifted communicator. Through her teas and talks she is able to lift women’s spirits and give them hope in Jesus.”