The year after I graduated from university I did one of those year-out schemes. It had that peculiarly Christian wrinkle whereby the volunteer pays to work incredibly long hours for a year. It was great, but exhausting. One of the nicer parts of the year was the times I and the rest of the team would get invited to the home of local church families for a meal. It was great because you got treated really nicely and you didn’t have to cook or pay for the ingredients from your already dwindling budget.
This being Britain, about 90% of the time this happened, we were fed that most generically Christian form of hospitality: lasagna. I like lasagna. Home-made lasagna can be amazing. 6 months in, though, and I was desperate to see a roast or a curry or fish or … something other than lasagna (as long as it wasn’t quiche, the staple diet of every church catering function).
We all get bored with predictable food.
I’ve been involved in working with that sector of society we call homeless for some time now – either full-time, or in part-time as part of my church life. We have a vibrant weekly supper in our church for anyone to come to, followed by worship and chat. Many of those who come are homeless. Some of my favourite people sleep outside.
When I describe such things to people they often say something along the lines of ‘Oh! You run a soup kitchen! Fantastic!‘
We don’t. We started off serving soup as part of our meal rotation. However we’ve stopped that.
You see, we started to actually talk to the people who came along and we discovered something important. That many of them who did the rounds of local homeless provision were sick of soup. They got it everywhere they went, several times a week.
Now we didn’t want to be a homeless provision. We wanted to be a community supper; a meal for anyone, including but not limited to those who sleep outside. Anyway, we wanted our guests to enjoy themselves; it’s hard to enjoy yourself if you think ‘this … again?‘.
So we don’t serve soup. We serve hot, hearty meals which are often quite spicy (because many of them like spice). We use fresh ingredients and we serve people at tables.
The difference is fascinating; people don’t talk about it as a homeless provision. We’re a place to eat, chat and maybe worship or pray. People appreciate that we know names and stories; they like that we use fresh ingredients (many soup kitchens run out of churches tend to use just going out of date food because it’s cheaper); they like that we serve at tables, not ask people to line up and have food slopped on their plate like school. We treat people as guests. Because they are guests. And we’re all going to be guests at the wedding feast of the Lamb, so we might as well start now.
So. Lay off the soup. And the lasagna. And the quiche. And listen to what people want.
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