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Taking Time: Understanding Ministry as a Long-Term Process

The Huffington Post recently published an article about Shobi’s Table. The article discusses a number of aspects of the new Food Truck ministry in St. Paul, Minnesota. It highlights some aspects of Lutheran theology, the changing views of the ELCA denomination, focusing attention on the minister of Shobi’s Table, Margaret Kelly. But one important, but not highlighted, part of the article is the careful consideration with which the mission continued. From the article:

Shobi’s Table served its first meal on April 17 — also the Christian holy day Maundy Thursday — but it took several weeks to find its niche.

“We spent the first five weeks trying to figure out where to go and what to do,” Kelly told HuffPost. “We parked randomly on the East side of St. Paul in a poor area. And it turned out that’s where we needed to be.”

The article continues later:

Time and again, Kelly said she finds that the people who flock to Shobi’s Table are coming there for more than just the free food.

“People are deeply hungry for prayer on the streets,” Kelly said. “People are hungry to be known, to be seen.”

The bulk of the “religion” Kelly does at Shobi’s Table comes in the form of prayer requests. Community members ask for her support, and she prays with them. These requests come in many forms: prayers for the neighborhood, for families, for relationships, and occasionally for more harrowing issues.

“I had a young man who turned to me and said ‘I need prayer.’ ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Prayer for what?’ ‘Pray that I don’t get in trouble.’ ‘What kind of trouble?’ I asked. ‘Jail,’ he said. ‘Why would you go to jail?’ ‘Shooting.’ And so I prayed with this young man.”

In an area where shootings occur semi-frequently and poverty is a known reality, the ministry of Shobi’s Table runs the risk of becoming a charity — something Kelly said she avoids.

“The aim is to empower the community,” Kelly said. “We cook together, we serve together.”

This ministry of the congregation was carefully considered, both before the ministry began and continually through the process. They looked at different geographical areas, considering what other services they could provide beyond food. They’re actively working against becoming a “charity,” instead attempting to help develop and build the community around them.

While their methods may not have been completely social scientific in nature (nor are their methods discussed either in Huffington Post article or their blog), it seems clear that the pastor and other volunteers were keyed into attempting to be methodical and careful about how to have this ministry succeed. They asked questions to participants and community leaders, attempting to understand the needs of the community. They examined locations, perhaps looking at census and other secondary data sources, to understand where poverty levels were high and where they could have the greatest impact. They observed the behavior of those being served, attempting to recognize what needs individuals had and how the ministry could best meet those needs. Most importantly, they let that information inform how they proceeded in their ministry. They are being intentional about recognizing the needs of their community may change, understanding that they are in for the long-haul.

Being intentional about ministry — thinking through the options and considering best practices — is vital to a strong, continued ministry. Check out our Toolkit here for learning how to examine and better understand your community and their needs.

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org