PINE HILL – One year ago the Soul Cafe Supper and Service was launched on a cold January evening. Spaghetti and meatballs along with bread and salad were served at a supper table in the basement of the Memorial United Methodist Church in Pine Hill. Melodic clinks of silverware and conversation resonated across cozy family-style tables adorned with cloth and candles. Of the 19 who attended, 14 had never been to church. Week after week, through word of mouth, the church café experienced a steady increase of attendees.
Since the birth of the Soul Cafe Supper and Service, the church has blossomed into a place where people can feed their bodies as well as their spirits. According to Rev. Cherese Evans, Pastor of Memorial UMC (Pine Hill) and Magnolia UMC 300 in Magnolia, the ministry’s concept is simple – “Come to the table where God and community meet and most importantly, come as you are.”
“We begin each evening with a welcome, grace, supper and then a transition song to lead us into worship,” said Evans. “We do not leave the table. We have prayer, reading of scripture, singing and Communion like every other church but we keep it simple, involve all in worship and have witnessed incredible results. Since our launch we have had over 200 people at this location and baptized one child, seven adults and 18 others who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.”
According to Evans, Memorial UMC used to be a traditional congregation that had become stagnant over time with people in the pews not reflecting the community in which they were located.
“In an attempt to reach the community, in May 2017 we began a food pantry to help neighbors in need along with a library, with the idea of feeding people, body and mind, which we named Soul Cafe,” she said. “It was an outreach ministry, however, we could not get the people we saw Wednesday evening into our church Sunday morning.”
In November 2017, the congregation was lamenting a conversation of closure.
“I called District Superintendent Myrna Bethke to discuss how we should proceed,” said Evans. “While having this conversation I said almost jokingly, ‘if it were up to me we would worship on Wednesday because that’s when the community is in the building’ and she responded, ‘well why don’t you?’ I had no desire to add a service as I was already pastoring another congregation. But in a Hail Mary effort to save the church, I proposed the idea of Soul Cafe Supper and Service to the council and taking the risk of closing down Sunday morning worship and beginning Wednesday evening worship. In a last ditch effort, they voted yes and we began the transition.”
The success of the Soul Cafe Supper and Service can be attributed to Evan’s conversations with those at the food pantry.
“I learned many had a yearning to feed their spirit which was why Soul Cafe was born,” she continued. “We want all people to feel welcome and know they can come as they are. We want all people to know they have a place at the table. We want all people to know they are of sacred worth. We purposefully do church around a dinner table because we feel it allows people to interact and connect in a way church pews cannot.”
After six months, they decided “to test the waters” and see if the concept or the day and location was “the draw.” In September they launched a Supper and Service at Magnolia UMC 300 on Sunday evenings. The results were encouraging.
“We have a steady increase in attendance each week, new faces and a constant flow. We have reached over 100 people who have come so far,” she added.
Evans believes the relaxed, non-judgmental atmosphere and the idea that someone can take a seat at the table and become a part of the community is the draw.
“People yearn for relationship and connection and often do not receive it,” she said. “When we survey people as to why they stay we hear things like ‘It’s welcome; it’s like a family and I feel loved.”
The congregations hopes to launch a third site in 2020 with a belief that there are many who desire a relationship with others and God but not in the way traditional church can.
“We want to offer something different in as many places as we can. We still have much work to do as we are only one-year-old and are learning as we go. Our biggest challenge is financial stability but thus far God has not disappointed,” she said.
The Supper and Service is one small part of Soul Cafe, a United Methodist Faith Community which according to Evans is “doing church differently.”
“The idea of Soul Cafe is to feed the mind, body and spirit, providing a holistic ministry approach. All the work it takes to make all this possible happens from within the community and those seated at the table,” she said.
If you would like to donate or volunteer to the Soul Cafe, please contact Rev. Cherese Evans at (856) 739-1052 or firstname.lastname@example.org