I spent last week at the Change the World conference at the Ginghamsburg Church (United Methodist) in Tipp City, Ohio. It wasn’t a transformational experience for me so much as a confirmational one. The things I saw and heard reaffirmed a journey and a calling to follow a missional approach to life and ministry and church in a very powerful way.
The most powerful day of the conference for me was the last. On Friday, October 21, 2011 I learned how serving breakfast can not only serve your community, but build a church and change the world. The Ginghamsburg Church is big – huge, megachurch by most standards. A couple of years ago it took over, assimilated, took under its umbrella a tiny, dying 40-member Methodist Church in nearby Fort McKinley, Ohio.
There’s a lot to say and learn from this exercise in church planting/revitalization, but first – Breakfast. We arrived for a site visit at Fort McKinley at lunch time and were served Breakfast. Here’s why.
The fist six months after Ginghamsburg assimilated Fort McKinley the staff decided they were not going to save the world or the city, but instead work on making a significant change in the world of a 15 square block area that surrounded the church building. It is a neighborhood in transition from being once a predominately white, middle class neighborhood to a neighborhood of color and of lower economic income.
The staff spent six months walking the neighborhood and hanging out. Their policy was specifically NOT to knock on doors – they were too new to invite themselves into people’s lives. They talked to whoever would speak with them. They asked three questions:
What’s this neighborhood’s greatest asset?
What’s this neighborhood’s greatest need?
What kind of church would you like to see in this neighborhood?
The greatest identified need was food. Too many people didn’t have enough to eat. So the staff decided to offer a free breakfast every Sunday before church. They now feed over 500 people from this 15 square block area breakfast every Sunday between 8-10 a.m. It costs them $600 a Sunday. At first, many people just came for the food and left. After a while, some people stayed for church or started to take advantage of some of the other classes or things offered by the church. I know that Sunflower Chalice has a very liberal religious readership and you must understand that Fort McKinley and Ginghamsburg do not back off the Gospel, but neither do they hit people over the head with their Christianity. They are not “believe like us or go to hell and get out of here” people. Quite the opposite. They are driven by their mission that because of their faith, they will make the world a better place.
Back to breakfast. The breakfast isn’t just a pile of pancakes slapped on a plate and move on to the next person in line. No, not at all. Breakfast is bacon, and muffins and yogurt and cereal and fruit and juice and coffee and an omelet made to order for every person. They decided to serve the made to order omelets because having something made to order would force people to have a conversation with someone else for at least a few minutes, even if only about a food order. I think it was simple genius in regards to a community building tactic.
We were served breakfast by servants. No one at Fort McKinley or Ginghamsburg is called a volunteer as everyone is serving the community and recognized for doing so. The servants who served us our breakfast for lunch were some of the servants who serve breakfast on Sunday morning. They were all currently homeless, formerly homeless or former felony convicts. Not one, we were told, would pass a background check. God doesn’t do background checks.
While we ate our breakfast for lunch, we heard more details about the revitalization of the church and the community in this 15 square block area. One woman recalled Pastor Dave Hood telling the church last Martin Luther King Day as he gestured to the 250 ringing the church holding hands was what Dr. King must have had in mind when he gave his I Have A Dream Speech. The sanctuary that morning was a 50-50 mix of white people and people of color.
Pastor Dave Hunt told us:
“You can’t start out to intentionally have a racially and ethnically diverse church. You can’t have diversity itself as a goal. You have to have a mission that everyone can work on together, that will help you achieve a diverse congregation.”
Think about that as a paradigm shift, UUA!
Fort McKinley hosts and runs a food pantry – the biggest need of the neighborhood was food. They run classes for adults and children and youth. They rent an abandoned (non used) fire house from the city and use it a youth group center and employ a youth minister. The place is alive with service. In a community where the median income is $31,000 and 15% of the population is living below the poverty line, this church has 500 members – up from 40 in two years – and 250 at worship.
How can your church change the world around it? Perhaps you just need to start serving breakfast.