Bread for Life
In May, 2012, the congregation of St. Columba discussed and approved the following document
as well as endorsing the hiring of a Food Ministry Coordinator to give leadership to this exciting new venture.
We believe that food is a vital focus that connects us to one another and to God and through it we can offer hospitality to a hungry community.
St. Columba has a tradition, every few years, of establishing a vision and goals for its ministry. This takes place after a period of reflection when we ask what we are doing well, what we are doing poorly that can be improved, how we can be more faithful to the gospel call and how we can live out our collective ministry as God’s people in this time and this place.
- In the year 2000, we decided to focus on how to include kids better in congregational life. This led to hiring Kids Animators who have given leadership to our kids’ programmes and developed a more complete sense of belonging among our children.
- In 2005, we reaffirmed that decision. As the children who were originally drawn to the Adventure Centre grew older, we focused on their faith development through mentoring programmes and giving them a greater place in our congregation’s life.
- In 2009, St. Columba adopted a new vision entitled “A Centering Place”. We understood that our faith was at the centre of our lives, that the building of St. Columba was at the centre of our congregation’s life, and that increasingly we needed to make the building a centre for the larger community. We turned our attention to the ministry of hospitality, making welcome those who used our building for their activities and improving the condition of our building on their behalf.
Through this vision, we have achieved many things. We have sponsored a conference in which many of us participated and learned how to reach out better to those who visit us. We have improved our facilities and made them brighter, cleaner and warmer. We have welcomed the West Island Women’s Centre and through their activities, St. Columba is busier than it has ever been. We have installed a TV monitor to advertise our congregation’s activities and signs to direct people through the building.
Local community outreach continues to be our greatest challenge. We realize that, as much as we have tried to invite people to participate in the life of our congregation, few respond. Attendance at worship has been in slow decline for many years. Our Adventure Centre struggles with attendance issues that put several of its activities in jeopardy. There is a stagnation that is challenging.
Discussions have led us to certain hypotheses/assumptions:
- Most St. Columbans are not good at speaking about their faith. We see faith as a private matter and are uncomfortable speaking publicly about what we believe.
- Most St. Columbans don’t know how to talk about their faith. We have not found appropriate means to help us articulate what we believe.
- Many people in our community have little interest in participating in church activities. They are not attracted to our worship services and other activities as they are currently being conducted.
- Many people in our community do have an interest in spirituality. Some are pursuing it through different avenues, often on their own. However, for a variety of reasons, they do not think that the church is the place to fulfill their spiritual needs.
- Many people in our community see themselves as very busy. They are unwilling to devote Sunday mornings to attending worship. While in times past, worship was often understood as a time of rest, it is now seen as an extra burden of time.
- St. Columbans’ vision of ministry is to encourage people along their spiritual journeys and to provide ways in which this can happen. We need to seek new ways in which we can connect with those in our community.
We suggest that we are ready to stretch our understanding of St. Columba as a Centering Place in new directions. We are ready to find new ways to offer hospitality to those around us. We suggest that food be the medium through which we connect with people in a meaningful way.
We believe that there are many in our community who are hungry for:
We also believe that at St. Columba we receive nourishment for our hunger:
- When we know that we are loved, God feeds our hunger for meaning.
- When we know that we are called to live out who we were created to be, God feeds our hunger for authenticity.
- When we work together, God feeds our hunger for community.
- When we know that we are part of a community that cares about us, God feeds our hunger for support.
- When we live out Christ’s call to be agents of compassion and justice in our world, we feed our hunger for direction.
Our need to be fed is fundamental to our human quest. Food is, of course, basic to life. Without it, we simply die. But beyond that, food unites us and helps us to form community.
- When we offer food to another, we offer hospitality.
- When we share food, we share something important of ourselves.
- When we gather to eat together, we form community.
Scripture is filled with countless examples of how food connects us with others and with God. In Genesis, Abraham and Sarah offered food to strangers and through them encountered God. In Exodus, the Israelites were sustained through forty years of desert life by the gift of manna that appeared miraculously every morning. In Canaan, they found a land of milk and honey that provided good harvests. In 1 Kings, the widow of Zarepheth shared the last of her bread with the prophet Elijah and was blessed by never running out of food during a lengthy famine.
When sacrifices were offered on the altar to God, the meat from the dead animals and grain from the harvest offerings were used for communal meals in which the whole community participated. Annual festivals such as Passover were centred on meals. In Isaiah, the prophet’s vision of the future kingdom of God was of a banquet: “On this mountain, the Lord will prepare for all peoples a rich feast, a feast of choice wines, of select foods rich in flavor” (Isaiah 25.6).
In the New Testament the importance of food becomes even greater. We cannot underestimate the importance of Jesus regularly eating “with sinners and other outcasts” (Luke 15), an action that led to great criticism from some. Yet his willingness to include the marginalized at table fellowship broke down many long established social barriers of his time. The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 became an important symbol of how he fed people and brought them together in community. In John, he declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall never be hungry, and whoever believes in me shall never be thirsty” (John 6.35). At the last supper, he used bread and wine to symbolize the giving of his life and instituted the Lord’s Supper to continue to be a sign of his presence among us. After his resurrection, his disciples recognized him when he broke bread with them (Luke 24.30).
Food In Our Own Time
We recognize that we live in a world where some of us have more than enough to eat while many more have far too little. The disparity between rich and poor is more evident in the realm of food than virtually any other. Global inequities are great and scandalous. Even within our own larger community, hunger is real. The popularity and need for the work of Le Club des Petits Déjeuners du Canada is one example of the hidden hunger, often felt most acutely by children.
At the same time, many in our society have virtually unlimited choices in food yet have developed several unhealthy habits with obvious ironies:
- Obesity is becoming a national health crisis; yet eating disorders such as anorexia, based on unrealistic attitudes towards women’s beauty, continue to proliferate.
- An entire TV network is devoted to food and garners a significant share of viewers; yet many people consume increasing amounts of “junk food”.
- Cooking schools, cookbooks, and gourmet home cooking continue to rise in importance; yet prepared meals are also on the rise.
- Growing food locally, especially organic, is increasing in popularity; yet many children have no knowledge of where their food comes from or how it is grown.
Also of concern is the fact that more and more people are eating alone, not only singles but also within families, with meals being grabbed between activities.
What kinds of things could we do?
A group of St. Columbans met to brainstorm ideas for a food ministry. Here are some of the suggestions they developed. The purpose of each would be to create opportunities for St. Columbans to invite friends so that more people can experience this community:
- Friday Night Fajitas – family meals with activities for everyone
- Talking Turkey – meals with discussion topics that open conversation about our spiritual journeys
- Gatherings of different groups – e.g. meals for singles, seniors, couples
- Education events – eating local food, healthy eating, safe food handling, e.g.
- Community kitchen – helping low income people prepare nutritious meals for their homes
- Food Baskets – reasonably priced fresh food for purchase
- Kids’ Birthday Parties – reasonably priced meals and activities
- Coffee Times – set up an afternoon café for those who want to meet their friends
- Dinner and Movie nights – with discussions after
- Develop our vegetable garden – expand the garden that was begun last summer and use the food for the community
- Seniors’ Lunches – already a success, this could be expanded
- Sunday Lunches – gather after worship for discussion around the theme of that morning’s service
- Deliver meals to newly arrived immigrants who are trying to find their way in a new society
At the heart of all these ideas is to use food to connect us together and to create occasions when we can invite people from the community to gather, to get to know us better, and for us to know them better. We believe that the events themselves are an important ministry and that they may lead to others ways in which we can connect better. The initiative will be aimed at introducing non St. Columbans to our community, while it is likely that our own congregation will be strengthened in the process.