A church in California hosts about 40 neighborhood people every week. Campus ministries across the continent draw tens, even hundreds, of students for conversation and learning. Thousands of Christian Reformed church members serve their communities in tangible ways each week. The common thread among them is food.
Food is essential to the life of a person and of a community. Churches around the denomination use food to invite and build community through food banks, holiday turkey drives, community kitchens, food truck nights, neighborhood dinners, meals for families in distress, potlucks, Christmas banquets, meal-and-learning events, cooking classes, and even the humble coffee-after-church fellowship time.
Food is a part of almost every ministry at Bethel CRC in Waterdown, Ont. Through the summer, a weekly rotation of food trucks brings the community to the church parking lot, where the relaxed atmosphere allows people to ask questions about the church and its ministries. Programs like Divorce Care for Kids, Alpha, and vacation Bible school all incorporate meals. “Sometimes food is more than a conversation tool,” said Joanne Adema, fellowship outreach and youth coordinator at Bethel. “It’s a way to show people that we care.”
Bethany CRC in Bellflower, Calif., serves 40 families each month through a food pantry and 40 people each week with a hot meal, bringing together church members and people with low incomes or without stable housing for fellowship and prayer.
Further north, Bridge Community Church in Langley, B.C., welcomes the neighborhood to a monthly hot meal. The date is announced on a sign at the beginning of the month, and word of mouth does the rest, said Joanna DeVries, who coordinates the meals.
Beyond building relationships, the meals have helped the neighborhood to embrace the church. DeVries said, “When the church first bought the property, there was a lot of vandalism, drug transactions. . . . That environment has changed. We have become ‘their’ church.”
Jesus used table fellowship often in his ministry, said University of Toronto campus ministry leader
Brian Walsh. Students and food are a natural connection, and Walsh uses food to draw students and build fellowship through preparing, sharing, and cleaning up after meals together. The best advice he got when he started campus ministry, he said, was “Love them and feed them.”
At Western Michigan University, international students find hospitality and fellowship at weekly luncheons. All are welcome, said campus pastor Ron DeYoung, whatever their religion or attitude toward faith. “It is here where there is authentic hospitality and friendships are begun and relationships of trust are established,” said DeYoung.
David Seymour, campus ministry leader at Northern Illinois University, summed it up well. “We have a tag line: We feed them, and then we feed them.” Food fills an immediate need so that a deeper hunger can be filled.