It is no secret that food attracts, eases, and binds people together in warmth and camaraderie. Jesus frequently emphasized the importance of table fellowship, and that tradition has become a part of many churches, including the US’s second largest denomination, the Methodist Church.
The Methodists have used food to help bring youth and elders together, donate snacks for the 5,000 people at the worldwide, UMC legislative assembly, and even bring home-cooked joy to prison inmates.
One Saturday each month, children learn to cook and make their favorite recipes from adults. The children thoroughly enjoy a hand in creation as well as eating. Past menus have included sandwiches, meatball heros, tacos, chili cheese dogs, burritos, fruit salad, cookies, and cake.
The Mississippi Methodist Church created the “Christian Cooks” ministry to help church members, both young and old, get acquainted with one another. In addition, it has allowed the children to spend time with their seniors. One grandmother has 8 children, all of whom she was able to see during the cooking time.
The children are able to learn ministry at an early age, and how to serve others. Besides eating their own handiwork, they also cook for the needy in their neighborhoods. “It teaches me about God,” an 11-year-old says, “and inspires me to help other people out.”
The children have cooked for a homeless couple that came to the church seeking help, made cookies and for Angel Tree Project bake sale, which helps give a better Christmas to children whose parents are in prison, and also brought an apricot cake to the residents of the Sardis Nursing Home.
Each month, a guest speaker from the church comes to speak to the children about his or her life experiences. One memorable story was when “a 75-year-old member told the children about the history of the church, how it was built, and what being a member meant to him,” says Darlene Patrick, the church member who organized the ministry.
For the 2004 General Conference, bakers from nearly 900 United Methodist churches throughout western Pennsylvania volunteered to help make 82,500 cookies.
Plans were drawn up to uniformly package fresh cookies, label them and get them to the convention center during the event. “There was panic at first, states Dottie Crooks of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, but it’s all settled down,” making it a “pretty positive experience.”
Another creative ministry that the UMC has thought up was to provide meals for inmates in exchange for construction work. Since over a year ago, Rev. Bill Cahill has allowed churches to buy their own supplies and provide the inmates' meals, while saving thousands of dollars on skilled labor - and get a chance to minister to people who appreciate it.
"They treat us so good," one inmate testified. "They want to feed us everything you can imagine, all home-cooked. I love it, but it makes me homesick."
Inmates must demonstrate enough skill before they can join one of five construction crews, says Sgt. Bill Williams, who schedules and oversees the projects.
Crewmembers like being outside, working with their hands and breathing fresh air. “It’s as close to freedom as you can get,” says another inmate.
The members who cook for them aren’t allowed to view them, but the women feel so close to them over time and truly wish to share the love of the gospel.