Bringing it Back: How to Talk with Your Faith Community about Food Ministries


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Come to the Table Critical Conversation I

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Bringing it Back: How to Talk with Your Faith Community about Food Ministries

  1. 1. In the months following the 2013 Come to the TableConference Series, we’ve heard from a number of youwho were inspired by the projects you encountered,people you met, and conversations you began. Many ofyou are now figuring out how to bring these ideas anddiscussions back to your clergy, congregations, and homecommunities. Last month, after the Rural Life CommitteeMeeting at the RAFI office, we sat down with a few folkswho attended the conferences. Here are their insightsinto the challenges and transformative potential ofstarting or expanding a food ministry.Marty Cauley is a pastor at St. Paul United MethodistChurch in Rocky Mount, in an area that has one of thestate’s highest rates of obesity, poverty, andunemployment. The church owns six acres of farmlandand is in a process of building partnerships and a plan toconvert these into a large-scale community garden forhunger relief.Mac Ledgerton is a UCC pastor, community organizer,and the director of the Center for CommunityAction in Robeson County. He works with churches toassess their capacity to engage in community projects andfood ministries. In addition, he serves with the statewideSustainable Food Advisory Council and the Wilmington-based local foods organization Feast Downeast.Katy Phillips works with Farmer Foodshare, anorganization based in the Triangle that partners withfarmers’ markets, churches, and hunger relief agencies todistribute market produce for hunger relief. She has alsobeen involved in Anathoth Community Garden, one ofthe state’s most well-known faith-based gardens.Bringing it Back:How to Talk with Your Faith Community about Food Ministries  March 15, 2013 - Western NC Come to the Table ConferencePhoto Courtesy of Peter Eversoll  Come to the Table Critical Conversation I: pp. I  
  2. 2. Sarah Gibson: What’s your advice to conferenceparticipants on first steps for starting or expandinga food ministry intheir congregation?Marty Cauley: Pastors as a breed areoverwhelmed by opportunities, so the worst thingthat people from the Come to the TableConference can do is to come back and tell their pastorwhat more he or she should do. What I’d love as a pastorto see is someone who’s interested and passionate about afood ministry and all they need is the permission to goforth and make it happen.Katy Phillips: Often people will come back fromconferences and see what others are doing, get reallyexcited, and want to do those same projects rather thangauge what their own communities’ needs are. At theRural Life Committee Meeting earlier today, one of theinsights I found to be helpful was the idea of conferenceparticipants creating tours of different projects in theirlocal area so that groups from a congregation can get asense of what’s already happening. Someone else at themeeting pitched the idea of having food ambassadorswho would report back to their congregation about whatthey’re finding in the community, whether it’s agardening project or a cooking program.Mac Ledgerton: Our Christian church is a church ofsharing food, but you [still] need to ask: How is this foodministry connected not just to outreach but to themission, growth, and sustainability of your faithcommunity? Or is it aligned at all? I think this has to beanswered before ministry has begun, because if it’s not, itcan create a lot of tensions later. People will get burnt outon serving the community without understanding how itleads to the growth or sustainability of the congregation.One thing congregations can do is a real assessment ofboth their facilities and their property, and how to betterutilize them to serve the congregation and thecommunity. I worked with LaGrange United MethodistChurch to do this, and as we started looking at all theresources that were available (a nice fellowship hall, awell-equipped kitchen, a big parking lot), the potential forfood ministries were identified. They started a Farmers’Market on their own in 2012 right there in the churchparking lot and got other churches, organizations, andthe school involved. It’s going very well [and they’veincreased church membership as a result].Katy: I think it is important for churches to partner withother organizations in order to incorporate the widercommunity and build bridges. I have encouraged FarmerFoodshare to do this with Iglesia Emanuel, a Latinocongregation in Durham...Igelsia Emanuel already has afood pantry going, along with fabulous cooks, but theywere only receiving canned goods from the food bank.Many churches are already involved in feeding thehungry, but we need to encourage them to take a moreYou need to ask: How is this food ministryconnected not just to outreach but to the mission,growth, and sustainability of your faithcommunity? Or is it aligned at all? Mac Ledgerton⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯Come to the Table Critical Conversation I: pp. II  
  3. 3. sustainable and conscious approach. Farmer Foodshare’sDonation Station Program is now giving donations offresh food to Iglesia Emanuel’s Sunday and Wednesdaynight dinners. This is a great way to build a relationship,as it [builds from] the assets that both the church and theorganization already have.Sarah: What have you found are thebest ways to get congregations orclergy galvanized and committed tofood ministries?Marty: Most people are for foodministries. From my mostconservative to my most liberalchurch members, all can agree thatwe don’t want people to go hungry,and that unless we feed people’sstomachs we can’t feed their souls.The best way I’ve learned tocommunicate a macro-problem [likefood insecurity] is with a micro-story. For instance, if we start acommunity garden adjacent to ourchurch property, the story is going tohave to revolve around one or twopeople being positively affected by the endeavor, not justthe fact that we can feed sixty families with our produce.Those big numbers don’t resonate with congregationmembers, but one story about one life that’s improvedcarries real weight to it.Also, in eastern North Carolina, if you’re talking aboutfood security and reaching across economic lines, youtend to also be reaching across racial lines, which aremuch more clearly drawn. I can tell you from personalexperiences that a strong stand for diversity in thecommunity is going to cost you something. These foodministries address not just a food security issue but aracial justice issue.Sarah: Are there strategies that you have used to ensurethat the ministries you are involvedwith address these issues of racialdiversity and inclusivity?Mac: I think there’s a real differencebetween diversity and inclusion inour community, and churches don’treally understand that distinction.We tend to focus on diversity –having diverse representation in theroom – and then we don’t developstructures that are really inclusive,where people are genuinely engagedwith each other and there’s inclusionand equity in all our activities andprograms. You can serve diversepopulations but not really welcomethem into your door.Sarah: Are there ways you can build structures thatfacilitate this work in an inclusive way? Is there a “magicnumber” of people who need to be committed in order tokeep the momentum for a food ministry going?  Katy: I think that faith communities need to bring allpeople into the conversation and into leadership,supporting those even on the margins and encouragingleadership amongst the "least of these." This is one Most people are forfood ministries. From mymost conservative to mymost liberal churchmembers, all can agreethat we don’t want peopleto go hungry, and thatunless we feed people’sstomachs we can’t feedtheir souls. Marty Cauley⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯Come to the Table Critical Conversation I: pp. III  
  4. 4. thing Anathoth Garden did well. We gotreally creative with how we used volunteerswho would come out to help us. We wouldhave disabled and older folks come situnder the shade and plant seeds in seedtrays sitting down, so there are always waysto build capacity and include folks whodon’t want to be in a labor-intensive role.You need to use your imagination to involvepeople who might not feel like they haveanything to offer, and give them tasks thatreally need to be done. Having regularvolunteers is really important, andAnathoth supplemented their communitymember volunteers with interns and seasonal volunteerswho got food in exchange. Having a garden manager wasessential!Marty: I’ve found that eight tends to be a good numberbecause I can’t really hold strong accountablerelationship with more than that. Like any good thrivingrelationship, it requires vulnerability. The team that’sgoing to be able to do anything is going to need to trusteach other and a have common mission, vision, andvalues. [To form this kind of team], we use intentionalleadership huddles gathered in single gender groups witha facilitator. We gather every other week and we ask twoquestions: “What is God saying to me?” and “What am Igoing to do about it?” The goal is to take responsibility forthe voice of God in your life. Once you answer thatquestion, then you have a group of people that hold youaccountable, and that’s how we get our traction for anygood ministry.Mac: I use the mustard seed approach. You get just a fewpeople together and if the pastor has limited experience,you can expose him or her to the field of food work.Eventually you need a visionary who is task-oriented andgood at direction and implementation; a communitybuilder who is focused on the meaning behind theministry; a resource coordinator who knows what yourfinancial and non-financial resources are; and apractitioner/coach who has experience in the field andcan facilitate the process.But besides the right numbers, you need right minds andright hearts and the right structure. The structure’simportant to really ensure that everyone feels like theybelong in the group and has purpose being there, andthat purpose is respected and honored. In doing thiswork, you need to be building community at the sametime you’re accomplishing your tasks.Come to the Table Critical Conversation I: pp. IV   There’s a difference between diversity andinclusion and churches don’t really understandthat…You can serve diverse populations but notreally welcome them into your door. Mac Ledgerton [We] need to bring all people into the conversationand into leadership, supporting those even on themargins and encouraging leadership amongst the"least of these." Katy Phillips⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯
  5. 5. Suggested ReadingTo read more from Marty, visit his website: a copy of “Street Smarts”, a guide to communityministry from Mac and others at the NC Council ofChurches and NCCUMC:      Come to the Table works with people of faith relievinghunger and supporting local agriculture in NorthCarolina. It is a project of the Rural Life Committee of theNorth Carolina Council of Churches, coordinated byRAFI-USA with support from The Duke Endowment.For more ideas and resources on how your congregationcan get involved, go to      Come to the Table Critical Conversation I: pp. V  Learn more about Katy’s organization, Farmer Foodshare: