“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40
Many congregations feed those who are in need, but each has their own unique way. One such way can be found at the lunch ministry at St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church in Hoboken, NJ.As you enter the parish hall where the meal is served. the first thing you may notice there is how everyone is greeted. A signup sheet for those who attend s largely ignored. Instead, people are greeted by smiles and waves from those who are serving and gathered there. When you sit down at one of the tables, a server (on this day it alternates between Christina Starbuck, Phil Schmidt, and Rebecca Stohrer) delivers some (or sometimes all) of the five-course meal that the church prepared that day. Phil himself was formerly homeless and was once a guest at this lunch ministry, and credits the congregation for being a source of support and hope as he moved forward.
A soup, salad, sandwich, main course and a dessert lay before you with drinks and coffee available as well. The server hangs around, usually having conversation about what’s going on if you’re a regular; or introducing you to what’s going on if you’re new. Rev. Margay Jo Whitlock, St. Matthew Trinity’s interim pastor, sits down at different tables, enjoying the food and chatting with everyone there. The action in this place is slow and paced and is not confined to the kitchen. Instead, there is more a focus on relationships, getting to know one another, and being a community together. Even
in conversation, those who are being served are called “guests”. A banner (shown here) hangs on the wall that depicts a line of people being served food with Jesus in the midst of them. There is a sense that Jesus is present through all of those gathered for this meal, in the midst of those serving and being served.
The program began in the early 1980s as a knitting circle where people would eat lunch and share with everyone gathered. Alice Vanderheyden, one of the members of that group, is serving coffee today, welcoming those who approach and refilling cups. As those who were in need grew at this lunch ministry, the congregation decided to create a larger program, outfitting the kitchen to service this need. But the focus on relationships and community never went away. You get the sense that everyone here feels like an equal part of this community, whether serving or being served. Today, anywhere from forty to eighty people will be served lunch, and the congregation continually seeks out new ways to be supportive. Based on what donations are available, there is a small clothes closet, food and toiletries pantry, and just recently a social worker named Emily Krause joined the team. Her position came through a grant to the lunch ministry, and in just a few short weeks, her impact has already been felt by everyone. Through her role, a focus on helping to navigate the different structures as well as coordinating with the Hoboken Shelter and other local agencies have benefited many. And the need continues to be great.
The number of people served varies greatly depending on the time of the year and month. One can find city workers and street cleaners, undocumented people, the homeless, and teenagers recently aging out of foster care taking part in meals. In a city that has a high cost of living, the need to bridge the gap is fundamental.
Despite all of this, there is a sense that this feeding ministry is simply the vehicle that the congregation uses to live out their calling to serve others in this community. If tomorrow they were unable to keep this up, they would move on to something else that supported those who were in need in their community but also kept the relationships at the center. This is a congregation that has a clear sense of the interdependent connections they share within St. Matthew Trinity, the Hoboken community, and the world. That this is where Jesus is.
To check out more about this ministry, check out St. Matthew Trinity’s website (http://www.stmatthewtrinity.org), or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/stmatthewhoboken). They are always looking for food donations as well as financial assistance for Emily Krause’s social work and to purchase food. As well, there is a need to an ESL volunteer teacher. If you are interested in supporting this ministry, please contact St. Matthew Trinity at office@StMatthewTrinity.orgor 251-699-4499.