Randy Freund, New Creation Lutheran Church pastor, awaited the arrival of the hotdishes, and quickly opened the doors to assist others in unloading meals and desserts. Tables lined the foyer area behind him and volunteers in the kitchen prepared for the rush of guests.
As pastors brought in hotdishes, volunteers rearranged oven spaces and baking time and temperature instructions were shared. The kitchen was warm with smiles and piles of food. The pumpkin bars oozed icing. The cream of mushroom soup bubbled as it baked into the tater tot hotdishes.
At New Creation Nov. 20, ministers from seven local churches and Perham Living coordinated the weekly community meal as a sixth cooking and serving team for the first time.
“My hope and prayer would be that … we expand this and each church would take on a Wednesday night and become part of that rotation. And even if they did that once a quarter,” said Linda Nicklason, associate pastor at New Creation Lutheran Church. “But I know that everybody has their own Wednesday night thing.”
Despite any Wednesday night commitments, such as church services or youth group activities, pastors came with a “Let’s do it!” attitude, as Freund said.
The Rev. Jason Erickson and Assistant Pastor Stew Burns of Northwoods Life Church believe serving together shows the unity of the church.
“I think that the churches often seem like they can’t get along together and that gives, ultimately, Jesus a bad rap. So I think it’s good for us, whenever we can, to show that we are unified as a body of Christ,” Burns said.
Erickson also sees the meal as a way to cheer people up by being friendly and offering a smile. Throughout the meal, Valerie Shaw, a Perham United Methodist Church lay speaker, joined community members in conversation. After all, meeting people is the reason Shaw came to meal.
"I felt that it was good for me to get out and to get to know more people, and my joy is to be in with the church and to hear God’s word,” Shaw said.
The meal that brings people together is not to be forgotten, either. When the weather grows cold the connection between the food and the people is particularly special, Freund said.
“There’s something called comfort food, and it does have a way of bringing people together,” Freund said.
In 2015, the meals began as occasional events and then developed into weekly meals that gave 80 to 140 plates of food out. One of the ways Freund has seen an increase in the number of people is by having Creation Camp weekly. Creation Camp started two years ago as an outreach for kindergarten to fourth grade children to learn about Jesus with stories, games, snacks and worship time.
While the dream of a day care center did not happen, Freund sees Creation Camp and the community meals as a great combination.
Parents and children stay for the meal or choose the take out option, Nicklason said. Meals are given to family members at home or simply “to have a meal for the next day.”
The time provides food and community for the guests and church members who come.
“There is a need, I think there is hunger out there," Nicklason said. "I think it also is providing a home, a church home that even if they’re not here on Sunday they consider this their Wednesday night church home, and so when there is a need, a crisis that they call.”
The people may be different each week, but New Creation administrative assistant Melissa Burns believes people who are receiving a meal need it, such as migrant workers who had nowhere to go when the potatoes froze and their work ended early.
“We serve the community, and I believe we serve people in the community that need to be helped. And it’s really nice that we can accommodate that and wish we could do it more often, but I think the connection and the willingness of the volunteers to cook every week in teams that takes a lot,” she said. “Just to see the kindness of the congregation and to just do it with a willingness not because you have to, I really like that.”
If you go
Community meals are open to everyone every Wednesday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at New Creation Lutheran Church, 295 Coney St. W. The meals are free with a free will donation accepted.