First Church has been ministering to a growing group of inner-city people for four years through an event called Community Lunch. Interest shown in a semi-annual clothing giveaway led to offering invitations to a monthly noon lunch. The monthly lunch is well established year round now and an offshoot of that is a permanent clothing depot. The whole church is supportive.
There is a common bond among the people who come to Community Lunch; they know each other and they’re glad to have a meeting place and glad to bring other relatives and friends along.
There is a bond established, too, between those who give and those who receive. Building relationships is one of the goals of the sponsoring group. Meeting physical and emotional needs is another goal. Leading people to know the Lord is the ultimate goal.
Relationships are built while setting up tables and listening to a story of lost employment, or while serving Shepherd’s Pie and sympathizing with a woman who must find new housing, or while sitting side by side with a young man who shows signs of having lost a fight the night before.
Physical needs are met by providing nutritious meals and keeping a supply of clothing available.
Spiritual needs are met through use of The God Box where prayer requests are deposited and shared by the sponsors. The gospel is presented one-to-one whenever interest is shown.
The movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, has been used at Easter; the Christmas story was told as Community Lunch children acted out the Nativity; an Alpha course has been offered with a follow-up Bible study. Testimonies or short devotionals are presented each month in the hope that some word will stir a responsive chord. The noise level is high and attention spans are short. After all, these people have not chosen to come to Sunday morning church. Rather, the relaxed atmosphere of the church basement on a Saturday at noon is very welcoming and comfortable for them.
A group of about 100 people are fairly steady contacts. 70 to 100 hearty appetites are a challenge and a delight for the cooks and their helpers month by month. There is not an expectation that this “congregation” must someday meet in the sanctuary. There is the earnest prayer that Jesus’ love will shine through His followers as they offer the cup of cold water, clothing for the needy and comfort for the one in trouble.
100 needy souls and the 20 or so friends who care about them is, it seems, a significant other congregation. These 100 may never be on the membership list but they are surely faithful month by month when hot chili and fresh biscuits, coffee and apple crisp may be the drawing card to a place where friends are waiting and God’s love is apparent. Somehow, this seems quite a lot like church – maybe even a New Testament kind of church.
Written by Jean Mercer