You Feed Them: Calgary Church’s Compassion for Children Catalytic across Community

 In All Church of God, Change the Story, CHOG

By Carl Stagner

Late in the afternoon the twelve disciples came to him and said, ‘Send the crowds away to the nearby villages and farms, so they can find food and lodging for the night. There is nothing to eat here in this remote place.’ But Jesus said, ‘You feed them.’ —Luke 9:12–13a NLT

If any glitz and glamor ever existed in ministry, the pulpit might be the place. It’s likely the nitty gritty, nose-to-the-grindstone type of kingdom work, however, that synchronizes most definitively with the heartbeat of Christ. Such is the case in Calgary, Alberta, where one Church of God congregation has been entrenched this summer in an outreach of uniquely potent proportions. It all started with prayer and a keen sense of compassion for the children of their community.

Rachel Jesse serves as associate pastor for Glamorgan Church. The closures that came with the COVID-19 crisis prompted Pastor Rachel to take prayer walks through the neighborhood. As she interceded behalf of her community, she couldn’t help but think about who might live in the variety of housing structures and how they were getting along. What was their home life like? Were they safe and healthy? Did they have enough food to eat? One thing was certain—the urban atmosphere suggested statistically under-resourced residents and insufficient food supply. Especially with shutdowns affecting the schools, children were unlikely to receive adequate nutrition for weeks on end. This troubled Rachel’s heart, and she was not the type to dismiss the dilemma with a trite, “Keep warm and be fed” (James 2:16).

Inner-city ministry is nothing new to Glamorgan Church. For many years, their orientation has been outward. Still, Pastor Rachel observed that much of the good they were doing, such as partnering to provide homeless youth with meals—was actually taking place in a neighborhood relatively far removed from the neighborhood in which God had placed the congregation. What if they could do more for those living up and down their own street? The idea was intriguing to Rachel Jesse, especially when in consideration of the large low-income housing area within a three-minute walk of Glamorgan Church. “The Holy Spirit put it on my heart,” she reflects. “How can we feed them? We’ll continue to feed the kids across the city, but how can we do this in our community?”

Space set aside at the church for safe and fun play.

Another thought prefaced the innovative adventure upon which they were about to embark. VBS, though having some value for Glamorgan Church, was proving a less-than-laser-focused strategy than they might have hoped. Not unlike several churches across the country, their VBS was attracting churched families belonging to other local fellowships. While all children deserve quality programming aimed at building their faith, church leaders couldn’t help but notice that the largely unchurched population in their own neighborhood rarely, if ever, participated.

“A year ago, I was about to go on sabbatical,” Pastor Rachel explains, “but we got a blanket email from one of the elementary schools that they needed help. The email explained that a lot of kids live in this housing complex and they’re struggling with poverty, including several immigrant and refugee families, and the kids don’t feel safe playing on the playground. Who could come alongside us and offer some support?”

Responses to the principal’s plea for help were minimal, if they surfaced at all. But Rachel responded on behalf of her church. After her sabbatical, she and the principal connected and crafted, over several months of the school adjusting back to in-person learning, a plan.

“So, in May, we started offering free meals and activities to anyone who came,” Rachel recounts. “The school advertised it for us. It was amazing because, we had 2 kids register the first week—but the next week we had 40. We had to close registration because I didn’t have enough volunteers to accommodate that number!”

Hub Kids, the name of the ministry, has successfully attracted children from their own community—children who benefit greatly from the resources the church provides. Pastor Rachel even estimates that at least 25 percent of the students who came have a Muslim background. Though the program doesn’t include explicit evangelism, it has served to establish relationship previously improbable between Glamorgan Church and their community. Gospel seeds have been planted casually, and the future of the ministry initiative looks bright.

“[Through this experience], God has opened our eyes to the needs of our community,” Rachel reflects. “Pastor Mark Kowalko and I will be driving down the street and kids will shout out, ‘Hi, Pastor Rachel! Hi, Pastor Mark!’ and we know that kind of connection would never have been if we hadn’t done this.”

Between 35 and 40 children showed up each week, requiring about 8 volunteers. Families benefitted, too; when a menu item inspired a child to say, “I think my Mom or Dad would really like this,” Glamorgan Church didn’t hesitate to oblige—take-home meals were simply an extension of Hub Kids. The desire of the congregation is to keep the program going.

Hub, which serves the dual purpose of a catchy name and representative of what they do, means for Glamorgan Church the “center, focal point of outreach.” They want Hub to communicate a place for the community to come and be welcome. “One day,” Pastor Rachel imagines, “we might have Hub ESL, Hub Food Distribution,” and any number of other derivatives.

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