By Rev. Theresa Coleman
I was showing a friend and colleague around my new appointment at Collins Memorial United Methodist Church the other day, telling them the story of the church, when, all of a sudden, my friend said the most remarkable thing. He said, “This place is like an Oasis!” And it struck me—it is really is!
Collins Memorial exists in an area I like to think of as a liminal place, a thin space or a space “between.” In ecology, a liminal space is the space between the forest and the meadow. Our church is located between very wealthy neighborhoods to the north and extremely impoverished neighborhoods to the south. Isolated by railroad tracks, those that live in Collin’s immediate area live in a “food desert.” This island of houses cut off from the rest of the city is vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods largely due to the lack of grocery stores nearby.
Ten years ago, a few congregants, who were aware of the Collins’ community’s food needs, began to think about how the church might feed its neighbors. The solution: a Food Pantry.
Our first Food Pantry served only 14 families. Now our food team averages two distributions a month. At each we serve 500 families representing more than 3,000 people. In this calendar year, we are well on our way to handing out over two million pounds of food—60 percent of which is canned goods and non-perishables, but clients also walk away with all they can carry of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and baked goods. We have no intake interviews or background checks. You get food as long as you live in the 30318 zip code and/or are over the age of 65. The most amazing part of this whole story is that we never seem to run out of food. We are an oasis of food in a food desert.
However, we realize the work does not end when the body’s needs are satisfied. Several years ago the church started a small worship service on Wednesday mornings for the clients of the food pantry. Over time, the service has grown. I am now preaching outdoors, much like John Wesley did, in our amphitheatre because the Sanctuary just can’t hold all the people who attend. Rev. Rob Lanford leads the music and every single service we have people coming to the microphone to testify. The services are the most spirit filled I have ever had the opportunity to participate in. Servant leaders from church and clients from the community are in relationship with one another. Going through the lines you hear, “How is your mama?” and “That grandbaby walking yet?”
Collins Memorial has truly built community around breaking bread. We have become an Oasis of God’s love. This Thanksgiving, I challenge you. How might you engage in relationship building in your context? What conversations will you have to build community? And how will you feed souls as well as bodies with God’s love?
Rev. Theresa Coleman is pastor of Collins Memorial UMC in Atlanta. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Technology and Digital Ministry