Yesterday morning, I headed over to my church to help at the food pantry. Along the way, I stopped to get some peanut butter and jelly; the woman who runs the food pantry told me that of all the donations they get, peanut butter and jelly are the items they get the least.
I was amazed at how the food pantry has grown. We now offer used clothing and other items (some toys, some backpacks, that kind of thing). A local Girl Scout troop also runs a closet which offers trendier clothing for teenagers.
Our church has 2 fellowship halls, and the food and clothes pantry has taken up most of one of the fellowship halls. Once, this would not have been possible--we would have needed that space for something else, like Sunday School classes and fellowship/outreach (like a women's group and a men's group).
As I bagged food, I thought about the news stories of people driving truck loads of supplies and food into Ukraine. That is not our ministry. We have people who come to our food pantry on such a regular basis that the woman who runs the food pantry knows about food allergies. In a way that makes me sad; we all want a food pantry to be a stop-gap measure, a response to an emergency. In a way, this ministry feels like one of the more vital ones that we do as a small, neighborhood church.
We could also do some of the other ministries if there was interest and/or membership. The other fellowship hall sits empty much of the week. The larger implications are what might be more interesting to me: how our individual church has changed in such a short amount of time. Once we had more families with children; now we have almost none. Once we had both a men's group and a women's group, then just a women's group, and now we have none. Once retirees would have helped at the food pantry; now many of them have moved or are still limiting exposure to others or are in too poor health to help.
The pandemic is partly to blame, but these changes were in process even before the pandemic. If I had more time, I might write about what these changes portend, but I have seminary work that needs my attention. Some people might wonder why I'm bothering with seminary at all--the church is changing, and I might be preparing for a career that will soon no longer exist.
Or maybe we're about to enter a vibrant time of change, where the Church becomes an even better version of itself, and I can be part of what shapes that.new direction.