Gathering Table evolved from Children’s Memorial Lutheran Church, which was dedicated more than 135 years ago at the corner of Brighton and Independence Avenue. During the past several decades, homelessness and instability replaced what had been a self-sustaining worshipping community of economically stable homeowners. But even as membership dwindled, the church attempted to meet the ever-mounting needs of the surrounding community.
As the last remaining members of the congregation departed, the church received the synod’s blessing to discover and strive to meet the needs of the surrounding neighborhood through inspired leadership, hard work and dedicated volunteer partners.
To act on that commitment, Rev. Ann Rundquist was called in 2013 to serve as pastoral leader
.In the heart of blight, poverty, crime, and physical and mental illness, she uses her extensive experience, education and passion to develop ministry and inspire volunteers to carry on Christ’s work.
Gathering Table dedicates space for a nominal fee to two organizations that share its vision and extend its ability to meet community needs. Participants in these groups often use other Gathering Table services while also volunteering to help sustain them.
What happens when a congregation no longer has the wherewithal to function as an organized church but its mission to the community is worth saving?
After five years of soul searching and meetings, in 2018 the Central States Synod directed redevelopment of Children’s Memorial Lutheran Church in northeast Kansas City, Mo. The new entity, a Synod Authorized Worshiping Community named Gathering Table, has allowed the preservation and extension of services to the area’s homeless and needy residents.
Today, thanks to grants from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the synod, partner congregations and other funders, the nonprofit Gathering Table opens its doors three days a week to provide meals, showers, clothing and worship opportunities.
The red brick building, previously home to a congregation founded in 1884, now also houses Once We Were Refugees, a nonprofit organization that teaches sewing skills and employability to refugees.
“This is a very important ministry of the church,” said Central States Bishop Susan Candea.
“Jesus was very clear: ‘Whatever you do for the least of these you do it for me.’ This transition lives out that reality.”