Gather Around the Table - Small and Mighty Ministry From a Small and Mighty Church

November 8, 2022

By: Rev. Kathy Randall Bryant

About the Author: Rev. Kathy Randall Bryant is the Associate Pastor to Families at Trinity United Methodist Church in Kannapolis, NC. Kathy has served with the Western NC Conference since 2011 and was recently ordained this June. Kathy and her husband John have two kids. Though her work is based in the church, she is a writer that loves to learn other people's stories, and share stories of hope. She’d love to learn and share yours. 

Gather Around the Table - Small and Mighty Ministry From a Small and Mighty Church

The sun peeks out between the trees, Mrs. Alva sits in a folding chair in the dappled shade, and another car pulls up. “Eight meals, sweet tea, no ice,” John Risley says as the car pulls up. He already knows the order before they ask, and this part of this ministry has been going just around two months. 

Five years ago, an idea took root. What can Richfield United Methodist Church do for Richfield? With 20 members and about half that in regular worship attendance, the members of Richfield looked at what they had and what they could do, and decided to start dreaming. With the leadership of their pastor at the time, Rev. Martha McDowell, they reimagined their ministry and launched Crossroads Connection. 

By summer of 2019 they built and blessed a “Good Neighbor” food pantry box and started supplying it, with Rev. Jennifer Orr as the community outreach coordinator, with a Duke Endowment grant for a new feeding ministry. When they first put their “Good Neighbor” food pantry box out in summer of 2019 they found they needed to fill it about once a week. By summer 2020, it was empty within a day. 

As the members of Richfield UMC dreamed and practiced their partnerships, they started wondering how they could use their fellowship hall. 

They kept hearing God’s voice, “to feed people.” In order to bring their kitchen up to capacity to host a feeding ministry, they needed to do some work. There were a series of mishaps and setbacks, but Richfield UMC knew that they were called to this particular ministry. They knew people were hungry in their area. So they kept working. They knew that their church was a church first, and that any of their work in the community grew out of their worship community. 

In the meantime, they added to their ecumenical partnership with a church down the block, Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, pastored by Rev. Ruth Ann Sipe. They held a spaghetti fundraiser in October of 2021, they sold 500 plates and raised $5,000 dollars to start the meals. Together, with Stanly Community Christian Ministries, Richfield UMC assisted with a drive-through meal distribution for lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting with 35 meals a day, they quickly grew to distributing 100 meals regularly. By August 2022, they were serving 130 meals each day.

Richfield UMC finally got building permits in the fall of 2021 approved and with new appliances funded with grants from Duke Endowment and the Uwharrie District Vitality Mission funds, work on the kitchen and fellowship hall began. They are grateful for all of the community partnerships.

Newly renovated, while still holding the character of the church that was founded in 1906, Richfield UMC began distributing drive-through meals on Mondays and Wednesdays in September 2022.  They wanted to make sure that they were not competing with their partners in ministry, so they off-set the days with the meals being shared from Mt. Zion Lutheran. 

Zina Risley shares, “It’s community led, community directed, community connected.” This is evident in the number of people who showed up to help put the meals together the day I came to see the ministry in action. Folks from three or four different churches are here, plating the 120 meals of stewed beef tips, garden peas, and creamed potatoes.

The beef comes from a connection with “My Father’s Cows” where farmers can donate their cows to be processed so the beef can be distributed to local feeding ministries. The funny thing about this is there are a bunch of steaks left over, steaks don’t really make their way into to-go boxes really well. The Richfield UMC leaders want to host a fancy “thank you” steak dinner for the farmers who have donated and supported their work, because every moving piece has helped these ministry partnerships. 

I suppose this is as good a time as any to share that Richfield UMC was one of my first churches. When I took my first appointment in the Western North Carolina Conference in 2011, Richfield was one of two churches on my charge. I served with Richfield UMC for four years, and it had been a little over seven years since I’d seen most of the folks in the community. One of the Bible studies I led while I was the pastor at Richfield UMC was about how to be the church with our neighbors. I can see how they’ve made deeper connections with their neighbors here. 

Cindy, also known as Lulu, because she runs the local Diner “Lulu’s,” cooks the meals, donating her time two mornings a week, making sure that the folks in her town are fed. Richfield UMC met at her diner regularly for breakfast and prayer on Sundays, and when I came to see what this ministry looked like on the ground, Cindy recognized me… once I took my mask off. 

Richfield UMC’s ministry is called “Gather Around the Table” and as it grows, they’ve opened up the fellowship hall for folks to come inside and eat on the china with fellow community members. They’ll continue the drive through meals, in the two months since they’ve launched, they average 130 meals every Monday and Wednesday, one day they shared 164 meals. Most of the folks they serve are older and retired, these meals are supplementing the work of Meals on Wheels, and some folks come to pick up and share the meals with their neighbors. While I was out watching the steady stream of cars picking up meals, one of my colleagues, Rev. Kris Mares came to pick up ten meals for a local college bible study she leads at Pfeiffer University. 

They keep serving meals and looking forward, they hope to possibly extend to providing lunch five days a week. 

While I was learning, I helped Zina with the sweet tea, stirring while she put the sugar in the five gallon batch. Cindy tasted it to make sure that it was ready to go, and asked me to help stir again while she poured the rest of the sugar into the full batch. After tasting it, she says, “now we’ve reached liquid diabetes. No really, to be able to do five gallons of tea like that, you’re going to need five cups of sugar.” So that’s what we put in, and now it’s right. We truly can taste and see that the Lord is good.  

The current pastor of Richfield UMC, Rev. Rick Clough, reflects on how far this church has come during his work with them. He officiated his granddaughter’s wedding here this month, the first at Richfield UMC in 20 years since John and Zina’s wedding. Rick says, “this is a miracle. It came together by God’s hands. It’s larger than we ever hoped it would be.”

The ministry here continues, even though they’re small. Possibly especially because they are small, the big work that they do must be done in partnership with the community. God is working through them, and God is not done with them yet.