Wow.

The last several weeks have been busy. Busy in a way that we never expected. We met a journalist who was curious about what we are up to at Shobi’s Table. We went about our business of being church and showing him what we are about.

Turns out, people get excited about what we are about!
Here is a link to the phenomenal article that brought us a bit of attention:

http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_26345668/st-paul-pastors-pulpit-food-truck

This was exciting and fun. We had a chance to tell our story to the local news and a few other larger new outlets. This is a good thing, but at the end of the day, we are being church.

We had an incredible opportunity on September 7 to be church with some other lutherans.

September 7th was Rally Day for many congregations. The Sunday when the families return for a new year of Sunday School. It is also the newly established, God’s Work, Our Hand’s Sunday. A day for lutherans in the ELCA to be of service to their communities.

A pretty fantastic day for Shobi’s Table to share our ministry with the church.

We were invited by Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St Paul, to share our story and serve a meal. On Saturday, the good people of Gloria Dei lived into our vision of church and helped us prep the meal for Sunday. They took time to make dough, roll it out, and fill it for the Sunday meal. We got to know one another. Our communities sharing in the work of feeding each other. It was good.

Sunday was incredible. Some of the people from Shobi’s Table had their first experience of “high church” liturgy. The people of Gloria Dei came to church at Shobi’s Table. Our church building is wherever we park. It was good to take turns visiting one another.

A wonderful part of being church is the diversity that exists. Gloria Dei has friends in rural Minnesota at a church called, Waverly Lutheran. We had a wonderful time getting to know the folks from Waverly and learning about their ministries.

I have immense hope for the church when I see that on one Sunday morning, three congregations take the time to worship together and share a meal together. We are incredibly different communities, brought together by God’s love.

God has called us to be in relationship with one another. Christ reminds us that we don’t forgive our neighbors once or twice. But, we forgive 77 times. Christ wants us to be in relationship. Christ wants us to be reconciled to one another as we are reconciled to God. This isn’t easy work, but there are Sundays in which three congregations sit down to worship and share a meal and we believe that reconciliation is at work.

Keep hope alive. You have been restored to relationship.

Walking By Faith

Last Thursday (and Sunday too) we read about Peter, the rock of the church, sinking as he tried to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33). I’m going to own my church nerdiness right now. I love that Peter is “petros” in Greek and means rock. I love that he is the symbolic “rock” on which the church gets founded. And, even more, I love that he is, literally, the rock that sinks while walking on water. Never fails to make me giggle. Yes, I giggle when Peter starts to panic and sink. Mostly, because I know that feeling.

I was reflecting on this story as I prepared to preach at a small congregation in South Minneapolis. I realize, yet again, how the biblical narrative seems to ring so true for us in Shobi’s Table.

Throughout the year of discerning God’s call to ministry on the margins of St Paul, I wondered if God was really calling us to a food truck and ministry on the streets. There were days, like when I met with the staff at St Andrew’s Lutheran Church, that I clearly heard Jesus say, “come.” And, I went. I walked and all was good. But, it wouldn’t take long before I realized I was walking by faith and got scared. I was scared of what the power of God could do. And, I would sink.

Those were hard days. My family can tell you that. Those were the days when I repeatedly asked if this was a stupid idea. I asked God what in the world God was thinking. I’d start to panic a bit and I’d sink.

But, in the midst of the panic, Jesus would intervene. It was my family saying this was the right path. It was in the words of church partners getting excited about possibilities. And most importantly, it was when the community of Shobi’s Table saw the vision.

This past weekend there were lots of chances for ministry. I got to explain baptism to a friend whose daughter will be baptized in a few weeks. My friend was not raised as a Christian. She has lots of questions and wonders lots of things about how and what we believe. It is my honor to be a trusted person of faith in this setting.

As we talked, my friend’s husband, a faithful lutheran, gushed about the love so many had already given their sweet baby girl. Not only love from blood relatives, but from friends spread far and wide. This baby and her parents had received the blessing of so much community.

I love explaining baptism to those who are new to the tradition. The new eyes of faith and the curiosity are such a gift to be in the presence of. It was my great joy to explain that the blessing of the family, both blood and community, was a part of the baptismal promises. I watched the relief in my friend’s face as she learned that this is a time when the community commits itself to the raising of this child. This is when we as a huge, ridiculous, wonderful, chaotic Christian family step up to the plate. We will promise to baby girl in a couple weeks, that she will be loved, nurtured, given the gift of faith, and brought to the community. When this little girl, inevitably, has questions about faith and God, there will be countless people to lovingly respond.

You see, that is the gift that Christ left with us. Peter was sinking. His fear overcame his faith, as it so often does. Yet, Christ, reached out and pulled him back into the boat.

Christ left us with the great commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

As we take those tentative steps of faith on the water, the disciples are there to pick us up and bring us back into the boat as we sink.

The disciples, called by the Holy Spirit have pulled me in several times. And they will pull this sweet baby girl back into the boat each time she panics. We know that there will be hard times for her and times of great joy. And in each of those times, the community of Christ will surround her with the gift of their own faith.

It is my deep privilege to welcome her to this crazy family. And my deep privilege to be a part of this family.

Thank you for being family with Shobi’s Table.

Keep hope alive and take a few steps. We’ll catch you.
Amen

The Book of Acts and Coming to Terms with Missionary Work

Recently I have been drawn into the story of Acts. Particularly Acts 2.

I feel like that is cheating as a mission developer. It is cliche to identify with Acts, so for a long time, I refused to give in. And then, we were drawn into the story.

We believe that scripture is alive. It is the living story of God’s action in the world. It is the story of generations past and their trust (or lack of trust) in God. The story of the generations that continues today.

Here is what we read in Acts 2:42-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

They devoted themselves to breaking bread and praying. It sounds so familiar.

Every Thursday we bring a meal and prayers to the Eastside of St Paul. We do this because we have been called to generations of apostles’ teachings. And we have been called to do this together.

Most pastors receive a letter of call (like a contract) from the individual congregation they serve. I count myself fortunate that I am a “synodically called pastor.” I am called by every single congregation in the St Paul Area Synod. That means, 106 congregations have a hand in Shobi’s Table! I love this! I am called by the community that breaks bread and prays together. Shobi’s Table is called into being by 106 very different, wonderful lutheran churches. Shobi’s Table is held in common by the synod.

There are congregations who have distributed proceeds to us.
There are congregations that have food to share with us.
There are congregations with space to share with us.
There are congregations that have shared a truck with us.
There are congregations who have shared their people with us.

And awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.

Over and over again, awe comes upon me and so many others. The wonders of God’s work in this community, through so many different congregations is astounding. The ELCA has a tagline: “God’s Work, Our Hands.” I love this. A colleague suggested we should have ours be: “God’s Work, Our Food Truck.” The “our” is a big “our.” This is not Pastor Margaret’s or even Shobi’s Table’s. This is a ministry of an entire synod. And for that, we are incredibly grateful. Without the common life together, we could not do this ministry.

Thanks be to God for you. You are remembered daily in our prayers.

And as always,
Keep Hope Alive!

Our home on the streets of St Paul

The holy spirit intervened on our behalf.  

Again.

She does that alot.  

We weren’t sure about a location, so we did a couple things.  We put the word out to congregations that we could use a site on a few Thursdays.  

On May 22nd, we parked on Payne Ave near the Family Dollar, just south of the intersection with Maryland Ave.  We had just over 80 calzones to serve.  We ran out in an hour.  It turns out, this is a part of the city that is hungry, not just for food, but for a word of grace.  

One of our members walked down the street and invited folks at the Salvation Army to come eat with us.  Soon, we had people eager to learn why we were giving a free meal away and wondering if we would return.  We had prayer requests and people thanking us for our witness on the streets of St Paul.

We were right where we needed to be.

The following week, we went to North Immanuel Lutheran Church.  It is a small, neighborhood church tucked away off of Rice and Front Streets.  This was a beautiful experience.  We parked in their lot and served their community.  We read the gospel of St John together and enjoyed the sun.  It turns out that we facilitated Pastor Kisten scheduling not 1, but 5 baptisms!  The community was gathered and there was time to visit.  The space for visiting allowed for Pastor Kisten to get her calendar out and schedule the baptisms.  These were families who were already feeling called to be a part of the Church, but the flexibility of a lunch outside gave them a chance to talk at length with Pastor Kisten.  A beautiful result of us needing to find a space to serve.  We will have 5 new brothers and sisters in Christ.  

We returned to the Payne Ave location last week.  

A group gathered almost immediately.  People remembered us from the time before.  A few brought friends.  As had been the time before, people were eager not just for food, but for prayer.  Several groups of young men came.

Here is a story about one of them:

I stood outside the truck and greeted each person who came.  I let them know what we were up to.  I explained that we offered food and prayers.  All for free and no obligation to take both.  I let people know we were going to do a more formal prayer time around the noon hour.

One young man stood with his friends.  He had a difficult time making eye contact.  He heard me say to a new comer that we offered prayers.  He turned to me and said he needed some prayers.  I asked for his name and what I should be praying for.  He told me that he needed prayers so that he would stay out of jail.  I asked what he might go to jail for.  His response was that he would get into “trouble.”  “What kind of trouble,” I asked.  “Shootout.”  

This was not a response in jest.  This was a realistic possibility.

I told this young man that I expect to see him each Thursday eating lunch with us.  I asked him to return and keep me updated on how things are going.  I asked him to shake on this.  And then, we prayed together.

A heavy, spirit filled moment.

This is gut wrenching stuff.  A young man is genuinely concerned with the prospect of jail.  And most likely, not jail, but prison.  He is talking about gun violence that would potentially lead to a felony charge.  And that, is if he lives.

But, something else was happening in this.

He was telling me that he didn’t want this to happen.  While he may have no idea how to stay away from violence, he did have a desire to avoid it.  He did recognize the need for assistance in staying out of “trouble.”  He recognized that he needed something more than himself.

St Paul writes: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God who searches the heart, knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

I sighed as I heard his prayer request.  

I trust that the Spirit hears my sighs and also sighs deeply at the hurt and destruction that occurs and might occur. 

I also trust that the Spirit brought this young man to a community that will pray for him.  A community that will walk with him.  This is the glimmer of hope.  Some place in this man’s heart there is a desire for something different.  His heart sighs for a new way.  

We are called to be in the midst of immense pain and immense hope.

And so I admonish you:

Keep hope alive!

 

 

So it begins

We did it.

We served a meal.  We blessed the truck.

Now, the work begins.

The first time out is exciting and crazy and filled with adrenaline.

As my boss man says, “you are the shiny penny.”

Now, to keep the penny shiny, or at least not too dull.

We had fun and laughed as we cooked.  I had dish duty.  Wonderful to have a community that takes care of what needs to be done.  I’m just there to lend some good order.  

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The wonderful people at Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in St Paul allowed us to crash their Maundy Thursday and use their kitchen.  We are still working out the details of our long term relationship, but it was a beautiful start.  We were greeted warmly and led straight to the kitchen.  Despite the hectic schedules of Holy Week, no one was too busy to answer our questions, to come visit with us, or to welcome us into their home.  

We realized there was a glitch with the dough.  We had rolled it out early and it had stuck to the paper dividers.  We scrambled to re-roll the dough and get it ready for filling.  It meant we were 30 mins late for our appointed time to start serving.  But, the reality is, no one was expecting us this first time.  We were merely late for our own party.  

We served delicious food and chatted with all our guests. 

And then, we blessed the truck.

We read from scripture the story of Shobi and his abundant table.  Second Samuel 17.  We heard how he provided a good meal and hospitality to an unexpected person.  

We blessed the space in which we gathered for meal and fellowship.  In other words, we prayed a blessing on the sidewalk and the outdoors.  We then blessed the kitchen and the truck that allows for us to do this ministry in a creative way.  We laid our hands on the truck and prayed for all the work that will happen on it.  

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My friend Marc, wrote us a lovely prayer that we ended with: 

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, for in your mercy you provide food for the ravens and wild beasts, wine from the vineyard, and joy at our tables. You give give rain to the earth, and in the shadow of your wings, the wheels on the bus go round and round. Today we dedicate this humble truck to the selfless service of your open hand. May your blessing rest on all its parts, that it will bear witness to your abundant grace, and tread the streets of this city in safety. Bless those who work or wander on the open roads, those who live away from the shelter of home, and all who hunger in every way. AMEN

Good stuff.  

And then, my boss man, AKA the Rev. Paul Erickson, invited all those who had come to share our beginning to lay their hands on those who are members of Shobi’s Table.  He prayed for us and the ministry we are called to do.  

 

A simple beginning.  Some food, some prayers, some minor glitches.  I suppose that is how all things start.  In this season of Easter, the road to the Cross and resurrection began with a baby, born to a family that encountered the glitch of no room in the inn.  I think we are in good company.  

And, so we say, “ Alleluia, Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.”

Keep hope alive.

The story just gets better

Here is the next part of our story.

It gets a little crazy.  Follow as best you can.

Sometime around April/May last year, we started talking about what it would look like to have a mobile congregation.  A congregation that would draw people into relationship with a yummy meal.  Maybe a little something that operated out of a food truck.

Well, those initial conversations were interesting.  As in, there was some excitement and energy in this idea.  Other churches and community members thought it was worth trying.  

I was approached by a person who knew a food truck inspector.  An inspector willing to answer questions regarding rules and regulations that would need to be followed.  The inspector was willing to visit with us.  In June we had a meeting with the community.  We were able to visit with the inspector at that time.  We got more buy in.  And so, on we went with plans.

I was asked to be a representative from the St Paul Area Synod to the ELCA World Hunger Gathering.  A group of faithful folks wanting to learn about ways to eradicate hunger in their communities.  World Hunger gives out grants to communities engaged in this work.  During the time I was in Iowa for this gathering, I was able to share our idea with people.  More excitement built.  And it turns out, the ELCA wants to encourage ministries among people in poverty to have social enterprise programs.  Programs that have workforce development and financial sustainability built in.  Exactly what we are talking about.  

I quickly completed a grant requesting assistance from World Hunger to help us pay for food for this food truck vision.

The week after this gathering, I was sent to a training in Baltimore, MD along with members of Shobi’s Table.  We were there to be trained on mission development.  The building of a new worshipping community.  The staff from the ELCA’s new congregations division was very encouraging of this vision.  They were excited to try something and offered to give me a 3 year call to get this going.  

Are you following?

In a couple of months we were given resources to pay for food, build infrastructure and get a legal food truck.  

Shobi’s Table is being led by the Holy Spirit in ways we can’t even imagine.  We simply asked and God has provided.  God is good.  

It was time to apply for funding.  I went and visited the folks at St Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomehdi, MN.  They have resources that they like to share through a grant program.  I told our story and our vision.  

This is where it really gets wild. 

There is a member of St Andrew’s who runs a food truck.  And not just runs a food truck, but serves meals with his friends down at the Dorothy Day Center every Saturday. 

I called this guy up.  He liked our vision and sent me to visit with the executive director of their organization.  This conversation was incredible.  These wonderfully faithful people had purchased a mobile kitchen and licensed it.  They are not yet able to operate it as much as they would like.  They believe in sharing resources with like minded people.  This part of the story sounds suspiciously biblical.  I should have known that we were in trouble.  The best kind of trouble we could be in.  

And so,

We were offered the use of a truck.  For free.  No strings attached.  We just needed to find the food.

We applied to St Andrew’s and the ELCA for food funding.

Then it was time to wait.  Resources were applied for.  Now, to see if they came through.  

Valentine’s Day was a good day.  We received $10,000 for food that day.  $5,000 from the good people of St Andrew’s Lutheran Church and $5,000 from the ELCA Domestic Hunger Grant.  Way more money than we initially asked for.  

We have connected with social service providers in the community to find a suitable location to park the truck.  

This is not ours, but it is the Holy Spirit’s.  God has given us these incredible gifts.  

But remember this, God is not good because we got $10,000 for food or a truck that is paid for.  God was good when we weren’t sure how to do ministry together.  God was good when we struggled to have a vision.  God is good in the midst of this abundance.  God will be good when we aren’t sure what the next step is or how to find the next resource.  

God is always good.  And always surprising.  

Stay tuned. 

And keep hope alive, the story of God’s people is alive and well.