I spent this morning with a wonderful group of people clearing out the vast storeroom upstairs in the church that will host our foodbank. We have cleared it in readiness for it to become the main warehouse for foodbank, a space capable of storing many tonnes of food.
This is a project born of the dreaming and hard work of a whole crew of people who have a single thing in common - a desire to serve the needs of those who find themselves on the margins of our outwardly prosperous community.
I think foodbank captures something essential to the gospel. Jesus told us to feed the hungry (so that's obvious as foodbank in London over the last year has fed 14,000 families unable to find the resources to feed themselves because of plummeting incomes, rising rents and prices,and precarious jobs). But there is also something in the gospel about working together to achieve gospel ends. And certainly foodbank here is doing that - people of all denominations and none, people of faith and people of good will, all united to achieve a single goal.
As it happens I'm reading Jesus Freak by Sara Miles which is wonderful account of the life and ministry of a woman who runs a pantry in her church. So her book is a reflection on life, faith and food. Over recent weeks - as we've had foodbank planning meetings and training sessions, as well as shifting the tonnes of wood and junk we did this morning - I've been musing on her words:
'Jesus does not, anywhere in the gospels, spend too much time calling his people to have feelings or ideas or opinions. He calls us to act: hear these words of mine and act on them. I started to help lead liturgies, then write liturgies, because I wanted to take the language I found in Christian worship and use it as a blueprint for action in the world.' (pxiv; italics in original)
This melding of liturgy and work is really helpful. If what we do in 'church' doesn't lead to us living and acting Christianly in the world, then we should stop doing it; stop wasting our time and God's.
'Worship and service were parts of the whole,' she continues, 'the Friday food pantry and the Sunday Eucharist were just different expressions of the same thing. Well-meaning Christian visitors liked to describe the pantry as a 'feeding ministry', but that just seemed like a nervous euphemism to me. What I saw was church: hundreds of people gathering each week around an altar to share food and to thank God.' (pxv).
There are countless stories in the book of realising that as food was being shared, Jesus was inviting everyone into the circle of his love, whether that sharing took place in the basement kitchen, the lobbies of tenements where many pantry people lived or around the altar in the church building. As Jesus' people live the life he's called us to, so he is able to work in and through us to bring his Kingdom.
My prayer as we gear up for foodbank in our community is that it will be such an outbreak of Jesus' life in our midst.