BY MAGGIE BEAMGUARD
Imagine a table where firefighters and police, teachers and nurses, professionals and the unemployed, widows and widowers, retirees, single parents and people in need share a meal. Imagine a table filled with neighbors and friends.
This is the vision members of West End United Methodist church plan to make real on the third Monday of each month at The People’s Table.
With the addition of a multi-purpose room and an impressive commercial kitchen completed during the COVID-19 pandemic, WEUMC is eager to serve its neighbors.
The building project had been in the works for years. “Many years ago we did fundraising for this addition to the church, and we are happy that we’ve done it,” said member and self-described shepherd Cathy Menendian. “We have a huge kitchen that we want to share with others.”
Pastor Jane Leechford said plans for the kitchen and expanded fellowship area have been around since before her tenure began in 2017.
“Because of the faithfulness of the people here at WEUMC, this area of the church is able to exist. We want to honor God’s gift to us by serving others from it.”
WEUMC also received a grant for the capital project from the Duke Endowment, which has special funding for the development of rural churches.
Meals have been an important ministry of the congregation in the past. Prior to COVID, The Shepherd’s Table provided a continental breakfast for clients of the Food Pantry. A Bible study called Bread of Life also incorporates a meal.
Organizers selected The People’s Table to describe their new endeavor to communicate that this meal is for everyone.
When local chef Mike Cirillo started attending West End United Methodist church a little over a year ago, he found a warm and welcoming community with ample resources to serve others.
“It filled me with joy and broke my heart at the same time to see how useful the pantry is,” he said. “It hit me hard. And so we’re giving back. This is gonna be a free service for our EMS, our firefighters, our community in need, our teachers — we’re just gonna give back.”
Menendian and Leechford credit Cirillo’s passion and enthusiasm with the inspiration for the project. “We so appreciate Mike lending his heart to this,” she said. Together, Mendian and Cirillo asked the blessing of the church’s board of trustees to move forward.
Cirillo will be donating time and resources to provide the meal alongside a group of volunteers.
Bringing the community together to break bread and intermingle is the heart of The People’s Table. “We just want to share the love of our community. It’s a very simple thing,” said Leechford, “It doesn’t matter who you are. We’re community. We’re family.”
The debut meal at The People’s Table will be served on May 15 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and includes a choice of a six-inch sub (Italian cold cut, chicken salad or meatball and cheese), chips and a cold beverage. The menu will vary from month to month.
Donations will be accepted but are not required. Organizers want people to know that the meal is free to all. Carryout will be available for people who need to get back to work or on with their day, but the team hopes those who are able will stick around and dine with neighbors in the all purpose room or, if the weather is nice, the Unity Garden.
The Unity Garden, which has free plots available for folks to plant a garden patch, is another way WEUMC connects with the community. Leechford said the garden started during covid so people could gather in a safe way.
“That’s who this church is,” she said. “This church is just loving and embracing. People are happy. It’s just a joy to be here.”
Referring to WEUMC as a mission outpost, Leechford admits there is a lot of work to do. But reaching out to the community and the world is who they are called to be. “I believe that the way forward in the church is what we’re doing,” she said “It is sharing with the community and sharing with the world. It’s like the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Mendendian said the church wants to open the gift of their new space to the community in other fresh, creative ways. This ministry of hospitality complements established outreach projects such as the Unity Garden, a summer reading program, Project AGAPE in Armenia and the Food Pantry.
And now with The People’s Table, WEUMC hopes to nourish even more. “We just want to give back,” says Cirillo. “We just want to say thank you.”
Contact Maggie Beamguard at firstname.lastname@example.org.