No Ordinary Potluck: Canadian Church Plants Seeds, Brings Community to the Table
By Carl Stagner
Imagination, innovation, and intentionality inspire Riverbend Church of God to step out of comfort zones and into territory where transformative community connections aren’t uncommon. Several examples of this bent toward making meaningful things happen stemmed from a seemingly innocuous step the Canadian congregation took nine years ago when they decided to downsize their parking lot. Vegetable seeds and seeds of love sown in the available new space have since blossomed into numerous opportunities to share homegrown food and life with neighbors—and newcomers (to Canada, that is).
Chris Pudel serves as pastor of the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, church. He recounts the origins of their community garden and the community potluck consequent to harvest. The portion of the parking lot facing removal was only used once a year when their Christmas banquet attracted crowds. To better steward and leverage the property God had given them, Riverbend Church of God prepared the soil for renewable use and reliable dividends—including their potluck, which first brought the community to the table about eight years ago.
“It was born from the desire of our leadership,” Pastor Chris remembers, “to reach out to the gardeners from the community surrounding our church property, who had taken up annual plots in our community garden (for a minimal fee) and connect them with our church family. To end the summer, we cancelled our morning Sunday service the last Sunday in August in order to encourage our congregation to come in the evening to meet and eat with the gardeners and have a low-key service in our gym around the tables where we just ate. After the first few years, we dropped the service to make it a more entry-level, single-focused event of building relationships.”
The garden and potluck enjoyed much success over the first few years; gardeners and parishioners interfaced in casual settings with common appreciation for the farm-to-table experience. Though the COVID-19 pandemic brought the annual occurrence to a halt for a couple years, followed by a lackluster relaunch in 2022, this year’s event yielded better results.
“We decided to give it another go this year,” Pastor Chris explains, “and although numbers weren’t what we hoped, there were some very good connections between the church members who came and those from our newcomers-to-Canada ministry (as well as single household representations from Keegan’s Kloset and pickleball, too).”
Newcomers-to-Canada? Keegan’s Kloset? Pickleball, too?! Absolutely. Riverbend Church of God meets in a facility conducive to a variety of activities and, more precisely, ministries. The sanctuary holds three hundred, but there’s also a gymnasium, kitchen, a dozen other meeting rooms, a small library, prayer room, and storage. With an emphasis on the first part of the compound word outreach, Pastor Chris leads the congregation to establish intentional avenues for relational intersections beyond the walls of the church.
“Our main OUT(reach) a decade ago was the community garden,” Pastor Chris explains. “Our OUT bridges have multiplied beyond the community garden to include men’s and women’s pickleball sessions in our gym, outreach to newcomers to Canada partnered with a neighboring church together to provide weekly English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) classes, Keegan’s Kloset (a ministry that provides care baskets to new moms and young families in need), and Friends of Fostering (a missional community focused on blessing and supporting those impacted by the foster care system).”
In the end, it all comes back to community in the broader sense of the term. Pastor Chris envisions what could be, and knows that it’s incumbent upon followers of Jesus to help make such holy imagination reality. Community, whether at home, at church, or in society, isn’t the natural tendency and, therefore, must be pursued with intentionality.
“When I look at the Scriptures,” he concludes, “I see modeled for us shared life together that results in extended spiritual families on mission. We miss that in our individualized, autonomous, Western culture, where we have been taught that our faith is private and evangelism is a one-on-one deal. And so, for a couple of years now, I have been encouraging our church families to ask, ‘Who is God calling you to reach?’ and, if people don’t know who God has called them to reach, then to join one of the three clear ministries we’ve discerned God calling our church to embrace (Newcomers-to-Canada, Keegan’s Kloset, and Friends of Fostering). I’ve also been encouraging our households to reclaim the home and leverage the table (eating together) as the primary starting place to connect with unbelievers and show and tell what difference our faith makes in our lives—before inviting people to our Sunday services.”
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.