The familiar white steeple, a longtime punctuation mark on the busy commercial thoroughfare of Independence Avenue at Brighton, has reinvigorated life beneath it.
After five years of discussion and reinvention, the red brick church building is home to Gathering Table, an organization offering meals, showers, clothing and worship experiences to the area’s homeless and needy population.
Membership at the former Children’s Memorial Lutheran Church had shriveled until it no longer was able to operate as a congregation. But instead of shuttering the building, the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America acted to keep alive the church’s mission to the neighborhood.
Gathering Table officially is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Volunteers, mostly from other area Lutheran churches, help make and serve meals, staff the clothing closet, and do odd jobs to keep the building in shape.
Saturday lunch, the most well-established food offering of the weekend, has been attracting an average of about 70 people at no charge to diners. All food is donated or, sometimes, purchased out of Gathering Table’s $82,000 annual budget.
The new nonprofit outreach – partly supported by the synod and partly by grants and gifts from other churches and individual donors – is led by the Rev. Ann Rundquist, who came to the ministry after a career in social services. She serves as chief cook, janitor, counselor and worship leader under a part-time call from synod, splitting her time with a Westport area congregation.
Recently, the building also became home to Once We Were Refugees, a nonprofit that occupies two former Sunday School rooms to teach sewing skills and employability to immigrants. The building also provides gathering space for a small congregation of Congolese immigrants. And its kitchen is opened for a small tamale-making operation.
Gathering Table leaders, along with former Children’s Memorial members, are working to increase awareness of the new programs. More volunteers are needed along with greater financial support.
“We’d love to find enough money to completely renovate the building and have a full-time pastor,” said Central States Bishop Susan Candea. “Funding is a struggle. There are a lot of different ministries working with people in poverty and homelessness. But I have confidence that a good leadership team is in place.”
Gather Table Mission is to give Hope by providing music, worship, meals, hot showers, blankets, and clothing to people in need.