Parishes, schools and agencies

Meals program grew from humble beginnings

Stories of urban ministry St Catherine's in Caulfield South was facing hardship of its own when it opened its doors to the community with a monthly meal program. Four years later both the church and the program are still going strong.

March 3 2017Q. What does a Church do when it’s in the process of recovering from debt, decline and dysfunction?

A. Pray. Repent. Listen to God. Be faithful to whatever He tells you to do … no matter how crazy it sounds.

This was the context of St Cath’s commencing a Community Meals program a little over four years ago. Having recently begun facing the hard facts about where we were, and in amid a culture of fundraising to try to hold our own, God put it on the heart of one person that we should throw open our doors, put on a monthly high-quality dinner (much like what you’d expect at a restaurant), invite the community in and just bless them!

Whilst we live in an affluent part of Melbourne, we realised that people still deal with loneliness, isolation and financial hardship. The financial hardship is not necessarily about poverty, but rather increased demands: private schools, co-curricular activities, childcare, social pressure, etc.  A monthly community dinner would be a way of blessing these people without singling them out.

For St Cath’s this was both counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. What we needed was for people to come in and be generous with their money so that we could stay open.  But what God was calling us to do was to just be a blessing by being generous and hospitable ourselves without any expectation of compensation or reward.

It was very humble at the beginning, mismatched chairs, slightly chipped plates … but church members quickly caught the vision and soon platters of food starting to appear. We never ran out, we never went without.  There was always enough food to feed everyone and usually ample left over for doggie bags.

In the second year, we approached the local council for some financial support which was granted and this allowed us to upgrade all our crockery, cutlery and some other facilities as well as having some money to purchase food.

By the end of this year it was evident that this ministry should be part of our strategic plan. We reflected a lot on Matthew 10.5-15 and particularly his instruction You received without payment, give without payment (v8b).  A new Church vision ensued based on this passage: To reach a post-Church generation with real encounters with God through authentic people with four ‘pillars’ based on the Matthew 10 passage: to teach, to pray in power, to give freely and to partner with people of peace.

Through this process and with the support of a Diocesan Ministry Grant, we extended our monthly dinner to also include a monthly cooked breakfast. We appointed a Community Development Pastor and have seen tremendous growth.  We regularly have 30-40 people at our meals.

Most people hear about the meals by personal invitation. However, what we have also noticed is that our efforts to advertise have yielded a positive perception in our community.  People who have never been to St Cath’s comment that this is ‘a welcoming church that is looking out for people,’ non-Christians tell their nominally Christians friends that this is a good Church to visit for Christmas and, while the bridge from a dinner to a church service is still an arduous journey, there have been a number who have made it. 

By the grace of God, St Cath’s is now debt-free, growing in number and being used to reach the lost. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

This story has been shared as part of Melbourne Bishop Genieve Blackwell's call to parishes in the Marmingatha Episcopate to share their stories of urban ministry. To find out how your parish can get involved, click here.