How does a church with an average attendance of 103 offer a new ministry that provides 6,000 meals in 3 months for a cost of $1900? This story won’t really make much sense at all…too few people, too little money, too much work. Yet, all we have to do is say yes to God and to hold on for the ride…
It was the beginning of a new year and the beginning of a new appointment. January 8 was my first Sunday at First UMC Bethany. I shared my journey and how I knew that God wanted me to be there. I had been discerning if God wanted me to become a church and community missionary. I gathered a clearance committee from the Quaker tradition, which is a group of trusted friends, and through their questions and my answers I knew that God wanted me to continue in the pastoral ministry. Two weeks later I received a call from my D.S. and an opportunity to serve a new church. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave my congregation mid-year but as I told them it’s all about saying yes to the opportunities God offers us.
So on that first Sunday, I shared my journey which included a passion for food ministries with “no strings attached,” no income guidelines, no criteria. This, to me, is God’s grace fully realized on earth. I had served Trinity UMC in Southeast Missouri where there is a 30% food insecurity rate for kids, which means that kids aren’t sure where their next meal would come from. We had a partnership with SEMO Food Bank and through their emergency food pantry we served nearly 200 families each month with no criteria and no income guidelines.
Later that first week at First UMC, two parishioners, Jeff and Renee Wagner, shared how that 30% statistic about hungry kids troubled them so much and Jeff had not slept much that Sunday night. What were the stats for Harrison County, they wondered. We did research and found it was about the same as in Southeast Missouri. What could we do? Jeff had culinary training and a passion for feeding people. From this conversation, the Lunch Box ministry was born.
Through prayer, conversation and extravagant generosity, First UMC Bethany has served 6000 meals from May 24 through August 21, the day school ended for the summer until the day school began. We prepared and delivered meals five days a week to 7 sites in town with no strings attached. Our only questions were how many meals and where do you want them delivered. We partner with Second Harvest, a food bank in St. Joe. We receive free food and food at a reduced cost since the meals we serve are free.
We had over 50 folks from our church and the community offer their hands on labor preparing and delivering meals. Ages for those offering their labor were from 5 to 85. Others gave fresh fruits and vegetables and monetary donations. And of course, we were showered with prayers. Offerings included the Lunch Box ministry as designated memorials from two people who died to a community business man who also had a fresh fruit and vegetable business who gave us free produce each day to a bread man who asked if we could use the leftover bread.
We began this ministry with $448, spent $1900 on 6000 meals (average price 24 cents) and we have $2000 for our Fall Lunch Box ministry. We will prepare meals two days a week and offer a box of groceries each week, too. There was no big campaign for funds, just a radio interview and a story in the local newspaper. And of course, stories during the message on Sunday morning about God’s grace and how we are blessed to be a part of the Lunch Box ministry.
So, what is God whispering to you and your congregation? Are there hungry people? Does the Department of Family Services need items for foster kids? Are there folks who could use some help with minor home repair? Do kids need some after school help with homework? When God whispers to us, all we have to do is say yes and God will show us the way whether it’s 6000 meals or offering a food box or a backpack or a smile and a handshake. The first step on this journey is to say yes…