Come to the Table
April 12, 2021
By: Rev. Laura Byrch
Just over a week ago, many of our churches gathered, in person or virtually, to celebrate Maundy Thursday, a night when we remember how Jesus’ command to ‘love one another as I have loved you” was instituted around the table. Throughout Jesus' ministry, he was regularly feeding others. That Last Supper celebration of Passover is just one of many times Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave bread to others. Food and feeding the hungry was a way Jesus showed love, and a way God invites us to show love.
Many churches have food-related ministries: gardens, pantries, community meals. Yet, often, we struggle to feel like these ministries are having the impact we want them to have.
Throughout Lent, the Resourceful Communities’ Food and Faith Project convened a group of food ministry leaders from across North Carolina for a book study of Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won't Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It by Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliot. The book follows 12 women, mostly from low-income families, over the course of 5 years to see firsthand the struggles of putting food on the table to feed their families. The book also contains data based on interviews with more than 150 mothers who live in and around Raleigh.
A key takeaway from the book is that, although there is tremendous pressure on families, and especially moms, to provide healthy, homemade meals, many families lack the resources, specifically time and money, to be able to provide for their children in the way they would like.
The last chapter in the book specifically references some ways churches can be part of the solution. They include:
- Community meals that not only provide food but allow for social connections and sharing stories
- Using their kitchens to provide pre-prepared meals that families could reheat at the end of the day
- Advocacy for food justice, informed by listening to the values and needs expressed by those most directly impacted
Generally, the book suggests looking to more communal sharing of the load, instead of expecting individuals to bear the burdens alone. Many of our churches are already engaged in this work. Among the group members in the book study were people representing food pantries that promote client choice, a garden on church land that is entirely run by a collaborative of Latinx immigrant families, a predominantly African-American UMC that runs a garden and health ministry for its community, a church that partners with a non-profit to grow an 18-member CSA* on their church lands and host a weekly produce stand for local vendors on Saturdays in season, and churches that host weekly community meals (many currently doing them as to-go meals). Yet, each person realized ways they could move towards greater community-mindedness and ways to give more dignity, choice, and power to those they seek to serve.
Is your church already engaged in a food-related ministry? As weather warms, summer gets closer, and reopening guidelines move towards more possibilities for food-related activities, this may be a good time to tweak existing programs or start something new. As you do, consider these questions:
- How can you center the voices and perspectives of those your ministry seeks to serve, giving those who are most impacted as much agency and leadership as possible?
- What does mutuality look like in your ministry?
- How can food be a vehicle for bringing people together instead of furthering divides?
- What are the policies and systems that need to change in order for your ministry to no longer be necessary? How can you advocate for those changes?
*CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which is a model where people buy "shares" of a farm's harvest in advance and then receive a portion of the crops as they're harvested. This ministry’s CSA provides half of its shares at free or reduced cost.
· The People’s Supper (resources for bringing people around the table to have meaningful conversations with those from diverse perspectives): https://thepeoplessupper.org/resources
· The Church and Rural Food Systems podcast: Luke Edwards talks with Jaimie McGirt of Resourceful Communities which focuses on environmental stewardship, social justice and sustainable economic development across rural NC. Click here to listen to the podcast.
Come To the Table (technical assistance, conferences, and occasional mini-grant opportunities ): https://www.rafiusa.org/cttt/