Calgary church gets radically hospitable with weekly community meal

Sharing food and stories the key to building strong community: pastor John Pentland

Editor’s Note: This story is one local demonstration of what might be called radical hospitality. We know there are others and would love to see them highlighted too. You can share about them via Twitter using the hashtag #radicalhospitality, or on our Facebook page.

Terrific Taco Sunday. Hugs & Quiche. Wife Saver Sunday. Denise Semos has dreamed up some great titles for the weekly community meals she’s co-ordinated on behalf of her church, Hillhurst United in Kensington, for the last three years.

The titles are just one small example of the fun, creative touches Denise brings to a task that many would find daunting — making sure about 150 people have a meal prepared with love nearly every Sunday after church.HUC's Lunch Ministry Cooking 300

This could be considered radical hospitality — a weekly effort, made possible by about 15 hours of Denise’s volunteer time and the contributions of a rotating crew of about 50 other people. The church also commits to considering and providing for varied dietary needs, such as gluten-free or vegetarian diets.

The weekly meals aren’t new — they started out about 20 years ago as potlucks but had to morph as the church grew, requiring more planning and co-ordination.

Denise describes herself as going out on a limb when she first jumped in as co-ordinator; she had no professional cooking background and had prepared a meal for more than 100 people maybe once.HUC's Lunch Ministry Food 300

But she says she felt she just had to do this. It’s much more than making lunches, this is the work of building community, she says.

Community happens as Denise works with her team to plan, shop for, cook, serve and clean up the meals each week.

“It’s about caring about each other and knowing who people are within the whole team, what’s happening with people. It has a greater purpose than to just come and get lunch served for people,” Denise says, noting the team support is absolutely critical to being able to offer these meals week after week.

“I might have the vision and be able to co-ordinate it all but we need everybody working as a team to be successful,” she says.

Community also happens as the approximately 150 people — a mix of singles, young families and seniors — sit down together each Sunday to enjoy one another and what’s been prepared.HUC's Lunch Ministry Lunch Sign 300

“Worship, as wonderful as it is, is an alone time in comparison to the lunches,” Denise says.

Hillhurst United’s leadership considers the weekly community meal a priority, pastor John Pentland says.

They believe that creating the space for people to eat together is absolutely integral to knitting the connected, caring community that those of the Christian faith are called to shape.

“These days when people are so disconnected, to create a space where they can share some food and conversation, is really important,” John says.

“When you eat with people, you are changed and your ideas are changed . . . your vision is expanded, your understanding (grows), the sharing of your own story (can happen). All of those things are part of what it means to be part of a church and so it’s important that we create space for that.”

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1 comment

  1. Heather Webber

    Thanks for the article…enjoy reading them on a regular basis. Well done and hopefully more churches will do the same…..