By Rev. Heather Jallad
Burnett Elementary School is 1.4 miles from Douglasville First UMC. In 2012 we became a partner in education with them. Over the course of that time, we have served the children in our community together in ways that we continue to pray will bring about transformation as they discover their worth, their gifts, and the hope that they are for the future. With the highest free and reduced lunch in the county, this school serves many single-parent families and houses the county’s first school-based clinic. The administrators and staff have consistently welcomed the church in and embraced us as we have sought to show and share the love of Christ with our neighbors.
Over time we have come to have church members on staff, a team of members that monthly prepare and serve at their Star Student Breakfast, some that work as regular classroom volunteers while others who have worked on the grounds, volunteered in the media center, at school events, and more. We regularly celebrate the teachers with lunches, breakfasts, break room goodies and gift cards. Two years ago the Spirit laid it on my heart to propose the possibility of Dinner Church, which, in a school that served so many families that were struggling to get food on the table, just made sense.
The principal was thrilled and proceeded to get approval from the county office. She did, and we were invited to share Dinner Church with no fees attached for using the space, save paying for custodial services.
We began to pray very intentionally about next steps and blew up a map of the school’s bus routes to put on the wall in our conference room. Monthly we tackled a different portion. Sometimes a team of two, other times 8 or more, prayer walked these bus routes, all in preparation to launch our first Dinner Church and further strengthen our ties to our community.
We shared an invitation with our homeless community that is served by the church’s warming center, those we welcomed through Operation Christmas Douglas County, a county-wide event that serves all who receive free and reduced lunch, as well as those served by DFCS or with parents in a correctional facility. In the meantime, a core team of 12 was formed. The team spent several months together, praying, studying, planning, and preparing to join God and take the church God loves to the people God loves in our community.
Winter weather and four days out of school impacted the number of those served at our first Dinner Church, however, it was refreshing to see as many children as adults come together to share free food, music, and a message of hope.
We have since gathered for two more Dinner Churches at one of the food pantries that serves Douglas County. Dinner Church has gotten the attention of other schools and churches in our community and it truly seems as though God is up to something big as we seek to take the Church Jesus loves to the people Jesus loves. The vision is to grow 2 to 3 more teams and add locations in the year to come in order to gather about 100 people for Dinner Church once a week in 4 different locations in the Douglasville area by the early part of 2019.
The greatest rewards so far have been taking this journey with the team that is making this happen as we are growing together in God’s grace and our understanding of it, of sharing Communion with people who have never come to the Lord’s Table before and telling them how much Jesus loves them, and experiencing the community begin to rally around it.
We are greatly expectant for what God will do next!
Rev. Heather Jallad is Associate Pastor of Douglasville First UMC. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.