It has been so wonderful working with you all in the food pantry and clothes closet this summer. I’m so thankful for your faith and trust as you extended my position to the end of the year in this interim position. Going into fall I’d love to share a little with you about our current ministry and how I’m seeing God work among us.
In 2009 I set up a meeting with Sterling to ask for a seminary internship. I knew of Tabernacle’s work in the Fan through the food pantry and I felt called to be a part of that. In seminary I had begun to feel a tug towards community focused ministry and I saw how central to Tabernacle that kind of ministry was. To me, Mission is not something that Tabernacle has to seek out, it is part of your DNA as a church. It has been since the church was founded as a ministry to the children in the same neighborhood we are worshipping in and serving in today. I spent much of my time in 2009 down in the food pantry, learning the ropes from Dick Denzler and researching a new idea centered around hunger ministry in an urban community like ours.
What I came back to this year when I stepped into this interim role was much the same as what I found during my internship- a warm, welcoming place where church members give selflessly to their neighbors through their time, their work, and their hospitality. They greet long-time food pantry patrons as friends. Many of our neighbors come through our doors often and all they know of our church is our food pantry and the love of Christ our volunteers show them. Wonderful relationships are formed with the folks who come see us monthly. True kingdom work happens every week in our food pantry as we help those struggling to get through a gap. I’d love to tell you story after story of ways we have been blessed on Thursdays when we open our doors to our neighbors and experience community through loving our neighbors and spending time with them. I see the Kingdom of God meeting earth in our neighborhood, welling up around the community that happens on Thursdays. If you are interested in this ministry, I’d love to talk with you about how you can get involved.
Recently, I’ve been meeting with some of you about what the future of hunger ministry at Tabernacle could look like. Later this fall a team of church members and myself will present something to the congregation to consider. I see it as the next logical step for our congregation in hunger ministry. A way to take all the good work that we’ve done and are doing, and going even deeper in relationship with our neighbors and patrons who are experiencing chronic hunger. Many names have been thrown around to describe this next level of hunger ministry. It’s been referred to as a food co-op, a friends and neighbor’s food network, a church and neighbor’s collective among other names. Whatever we may call it, the idea is this: partnering more deeply with our neighbors who are in need and allowing them to take on more responsibility and ownership in the food they receive. By doing so, we are loving our neighbors in the best way that we can and also allowing them to have more of a voice in the food pantry. We have always been advocates for the community in our hunger ministry, but by partnering more closely with neighborhood leaders in a co-op group, we are allowing them to have their own voice as we advocate alongside them.
It works like this:
We create small groups of folks who want to be part of this new ministry, people who maybe attend our food pantry now, live close to our church and meet certain guidelines that allow them to receive food from our food bank and allow each group to work together, to meet together, to make decisions together and to partner with us in distributing food twice a month.
I picture a typical group looking very similar to what you would see on any given Thursday in the community room. Our current volunteers sitting around the room, enjoying conversation with neighbors who have come to receive some food, except our church volunteers are partnered with someone who is there to receive food for a specific role.
Neighbors are taking the lead by checking people in with church members helping, dividing food into bags or boxes alongside other church volunteers, or helping people find what they need in the clothes closet. Another few are just returning from the food bank with to bring back another truckload that will need to be moved into the basement. Everyone would have a role in the group, even if it is just to give a warm welcome on the way in or to hand out cups of coffee. Multiple groups would meet separately as a community to help gather and distribute groceries and build relationships with one another and with those from our church who are serving with them in their group. We would be partnering with our neighbors and sharing not only food with them, but working alongside them shoulder to shoulder to further God’s kingdom.
There are still many small details that we would need to work out if Tabernacle decides to support going in this direction in its ministry to the community, but it’s a beautiful picture of what the next level of hunger ministry and of relationship with our geographical neighbors could look like. It is truly something I think is worth working towards as a church.
What does this mean for our current pantry?
Nothing would change initially, as membership in the groups are completely by choice. The pantry will still operate for those who need it just as it does today. I envision us starting with one group in addition to our current pantry as a trial, and growing more groups from there as more neighbors sign up and church volunteers commit to building relationships with new groups. As a church we will see how the groups evolve alongside what we currently offer and continually hold our ministry to the test that we are currently using: are we furthering the kingdom of God? And is everyone who is eligible to receive food from us and has a need still able to receive it?
Other examples of this model in other states show that many times people will choose to be part of one of these communities because they want some ownership and control of what they are receiving. These groups are a wonderful way to offer that in partnership with our church. In many other places where communities like this operate, they have to be careful to not grow too fast because of the huge interest they get from their neighbors in these partnership groups.
One of the things Dick Denzler instilled in me as an intern and again when I came back to Tabernacle was that no one in our neighborhood who has a need should ever go hungry. That principle will guide how we pursue this new path together, ensuring that we are not letting anyone go hungry or unclothed as we look at new and different ways of doing things to deepen our relationship with our neighbors.
We will be working closely with the food bank and with our neighbors to make sure everything we do is beneficial for all who are experiencing hunger in our area. The food bank will offer guidance on how and when we can host these groups as we will continue to withdraw food from them. We would still also meet all emergency one-time food needs from our pantry and clothes closet to be sure that we are doing all we can to serve and love our neighbors. As the church considers whether to pursue this next step in our hunger ministry please prayerfully consider whether this is something you are called to be a part of directly. I’m always available to answer any questions I can or to talk more with you about this idea. I’m excited by how God is moving and working in our church and I’m thankful for your prayers and support as we explore taking this next step in ministry together.
Yours in Christ,
Interim Pastor for Hunger Ministry