At St. James, outreach and mission go hand-in-hand. In fact, when committees were restructured shortly before I arrived in June, one group was charged to focus on outreach and mission.
Is the ministry group Mission and Outreach or Outreach and Mission? These are the kinds of questions that I asked as I fumbled around in the darkness of starting a new call over the summer.
Thanks to Randy Winter, who serves as one of the elders on this committee, I now remember that the official name of this ministry group is Outreach and Mission, because Randy taught me to use the mnemonic device “Om” to remember that it is Outreach and Mission.
Since we are using “Om” to remember the name of the ministry group, it seems appropriate that I quote Gandhi as I give thanks for this committee’s latest greatest success. Gandhi says, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
On Saturday, we, at St. James, opened our hearts, minds, kitchen and gym to the people whom God brought into our midst to eat spaghetti with us. This event, which is the second one that the church has held in recent memory, is part of a tradition that I hope continues.
By offering people spaghetti, sauce, water and bread without expecting anything in return, we were simply being neighborly in the way that Christ calls us to be neighborly. While it feels good to serve in this capacity, I pray that we will always humbly serve all of our neighbors, rich ones, poor ones and the socio-economically-in-between ones.
Is such service outreach or mission? To the person who is new to the neighborhood and is looking for a church to which she may belong, it is outreach. To the family who struggles financially, God appears to them in the form of bread.
In the end, the question is not ours to answer. Like everything else, it belongs to God. Meanwhile, we live in a constant state of discernment as God’s particular call to each and every one of us evolves. While discerning our next steps, if there is bread in the kitchen, then we better be serving it—not only with butter, but also with love.
I am reluctant to start naming names, because it is impossible to name everybody who helped with Saturday’s spaghetti dinner. Our fearless leader Sue Foster’s mantra for the event was, “It takes a village,” and I agree; it does. Still, I would like to highlight the faithfulness of a few members of the congregation with apologies to the many members (and there are probably 20-30 of them) whose names that I fail to mention.
First and foremost, I would like to say “thanks” to Sue, whose vision and organizational skills helped the worker bees in our midst know how to help. Then, there are Mitch Durham and Karen McLaughlin, who served as master chefs for the event. Cliff Hanner was at the church with Mitch much of the day on Friday. Joyce Shirley and James Worden served as the events’ unofficial maitre d’s, and Steve Grubb and Jack McLaughlin successfully improvised when it became clear that it was in the ministry’s best interest to make “to go” boxes available for our hungriest guests.
As a congregation, we are grateful to The Olive Garden for donating salads and to Wegman’s for giving us takeout boxes. We are also grateful to Company 3, a jazz trio featuring our own Karsen McLaughlin on drums, for making music that made the occasion more lively, playful and festive.
There is already talk of hosting a similar event this spring. Personally, I hope that it happens. I hope that it happens, because I believe that we grow individually and as a family of faith through such acts of service, for such acts of service publicly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in a world that is hungrier for much more than spaghetti, sauce and bread.
I believe that all mission is ultimately God’s mission and that all outreach is ultimately God’s way of bringing us to serve God’s greater purposes in our lives, in the church and in God’s world. On this Monday morning, I give thanks to God for bringing zest to our lives through good food, good fellowship and good friends this Saturday. A little spaghetti and sauce goes a long way. To God be glory forever.