Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Dr. R.B. McFee
“He who helps another feeds three; his lonely neighbor, himself, and Thee.”
If you ever want to make God smile, let alone emerge from the blues feeling happier, just do something to help someone else – whether the street person on your way to work, the fatherless child who needs a role model-mentor, the single mom struggling to raise a family, the lonely senior no longer able to drive….the list of those in need, which is to say our opportunity to help others is a large one.
Looking at one of my dad’s favorite quotes, something he often repeated, it seems an apt introduction since that phrase underscores how we can build relationship with God, with others, and a sense of community, through being charitable.
Of course at this point I’m preaching to the choir! CCUMC does indeed help those in need in a variety of church led, and personal outreach efforts.
But, there is no shortage in creative ways we can even expand our efforts. For example, in terms of food, we have partnered with our sister church in Southbridge to bring needed resources to fill needs. Some local Methodist churches have engaged in the concept of “simple church” where cafés and non-traditional venues host community agape meetings.
Speaking of which, “food” is one of my favorite subjects, and peanut butter (PB), especially with Karo ™ Syrup (dark or light), and maybe even some marshmallow spread (Fluff ™) or maple syrup, which together creates the ultimate in sandwiches (and requires a subsequent multi-mile run in lieu of dessert). Moreover, the “power” of peanut butter as a good protein source, even without Karo ™, is well known. Yet there is a different “Power” I’m ascribing to this culinary delight.
What’s that “Power?” The “Power” of peanut butter I’ll be talking about in this article is as a symbol of God’s love that is shared and reflected by our faith family. “PB” is how I fondly think of CCUMC, of the Lord’s power of hospitality manifest in our faith family. In fact, it is how I lovingly nicknamed our community of believers (“peanut butter church”). It can also be a symbol, an inspiration for other churches to follow in their outreach.
How did I come to that conclusion? Are you ready for a brief story? Come travel back in time a few years….
Once upon a time (always wanted to write an article starting with that, but I digress) after I left my prior house of worship, I became a regular visitor at a church in Connecticut. Good people devoted to Christ, hospitable, with a terrific pastoral couple, located down from a picturesque road; in essence a great place to worship.
During the months I visited that church, a close friend – I’ll refer to her as “auntie” because she has become like a valued aunt (something other members likely feel towards her as well) - invited me to visit her church - CCUMC. Auntie kept telling me how wonderful it was, and I kept saying “thank you” and promising someday I would join her.
Among auntie’s many admirable attributes is her persistence. Think about it – she enjoyed, valued her worship family so much that she had to share it with others through multiple invitations. As an important aside, I wonder how many folks feel that way about their respective house of worship to invite friends to attend. That our community of believers could inculcate such feelings is telling, and a blessing.
Getting back, to the story, “auntie” also knew me pretty well, and what I cared about. This included the homeless. Can you guess where this is going?
Knowing I enjoyed volunteerism, especially for the homeless, “auntie” told me about the sandwich making project CCUMC participates in, and an opportunity to join in was happening that upcoming Sunday. She knew just how to invite me this time!
That Sunday we met with some of her church friends in the kitchen. The volunteers readily made room for me to join in. I chose the peanut butter sandwich part of the assembly line. It is still one of my favorite meals (did I mention that already?!).
In the kitchen the conversation flowed, and there was a palpable sense of family, camaraderie, welcome.
One of the volunteers told me the food, (and socks – highly needed by the homeless) were being packaged for the Interfaith homeless program in Worcester - a weekly church service held outdoors behind city hall, rain or shine. The clergy, volunteers, money, food, clothes, support all come from an ecumenical program involving multiple houses of worship.
Many hands make the work go fast; before we knew it, all the sandwiches, and other food items were packaged. Auntie then asked me to join her upstairs for worship. I also felt as if God was whispering “stick around.”
As soon as I entered the sanctuary several members came up to me, introducing themselves, and all were genuinely welcoming. Next thing I knew everyone was singing a song that exhorts the virtues of celebrating each other as a community. Not surprisingly it is called “Celebrate.” From the first note everyone was intermingling and exchanging well wishes – wow the folks in this church really enjoy each other!
Moreover their new pastor gave a powerful sermon about us as a local church family within the wider family of God, how we can use our talents to make a difference in another person’s life, and by doing so, our lives become a powerful witness, and more joyful.
After church, I told “auntie” that the peanut butter sandwiches may have gotten me in the door, but feeling Christ’s love and the sense of community made me want to visit again.
CCUMC’s hospitality, and warmth extended to me -a stranger, was powerful. And what blesses me even to this day – it has not stopped!
“For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus”
The Apostle Paul in this comment to his fellow Christians captures our feelings at CCUMC. Is it any wonder we all look forward to communal worship opportunities to be together? Whether Sunday services, Bible study fellowships, the weekly summer Wednesday visits, or other programs that allow us to enjoy each other’s company as coheirs of Christ.
Consider the weekly Zooms ™. Scheduled for 2 hours, yet when time is called, most of us want to still hang around. One wonders, do other houses of worship share in this mutual affection of Christ and for others?
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
There can be no more powerful witness to or reflection of God’s Love than when we help the least among us. And ever since I have first visited CCUMC I look at peanut butter sandwiches much differently; now whenever I make one, I am reminded of a congregation that, even during a pandemic, continues to serve others, and support this important program. And I am reminded of people I may never meet, who will be fed physically, and spiritually. The homeless who are part of the collaborative ministry will know they matter. They are not unloved.
But how many others out in the wider community do feel alone, without someone to care about or be loved by? How many more need the power of peanut butter sandwiches in their lives, and the kindness of those who will make them – rain or shine?
“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”
Ever notice some of the most important stories Jesus told, or was central to, involved food?
Consider Jesus advising Peter where to fish (ok, that food would involve some assembly required), or taking the meager provisions the Disciples located when the multitudes remained at dinner time requiring Jesus to multiply a handful of fishes and loaves enough to feed thousands (Matthew 14); He couldn’t leave them hungry! Or the man who asked his friend for bread late in the middle of the night, or the wedding at Cana, or various meals at the home of Mary and Martha, or the most important of all – The Last Supper.
And among the greatest commodities folks need – besides love, and kindness, is food. Too many people have a cupboard that is bare. Food insecurity, going to bed hungry is a growing problem, as regional food banks will attest. Schools often filled the void for many hungry kids, but with the pandemic, and home schooling, that resource diminishes.
The notion of breaking bread together goes beyond simple nourishment, as important as that may be. In fact just the phrase “let’s break bread together” connotates a form of peacemaking, encourages fellowship. Such times over a meal set the stage for sharing ourselves, a form of hospitality that transcends the physical, and can open to the spiritual in a powerful way.
“They will know we are Christians by our love.”
Written by Fr. Peter Scholtes
Helping others, which is a hallmark characteristic of God’s people, aptly codified in this song, and inspired by John 13:35 "behold, how they love one another," an observation by non-Christians describing Christians. Nothing says love more than helping others.
What we do for others defines us as Christians more than denominational logo, what we say, or the theology, liturgy that we follow. How we live the teachings of Jesus represents the faith we profess. Abiding by the guidance of the Holy Spirit - our Indwelling God, and reflecting the Love of God to a weary world, that is who we are as a faith family, as a people of God, as Christians.
Having opportunities for volunteerism is a powerful teambuilding activity for congregations, offers non-members an opportunity to visit, to interact with congregants as they share a common task, not to mention reminds us as people of faith our responsibility to help others.
Engaging in activities that reach the wider community beyond the confines of the church itself, and inviting visitors to participate as valued guests can also attract new people. How? Through a shared sense of purpose in outreach, like homelessness, or serving the poor, or visiting shut-ins, or helping wounded veterans, or other charitable programs. It certainly attracted me, and I’ve been attending regularly ever since; CCUMC is now home.
So who can we invite next for the “peanut butter” team?
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
What’s your favorite family food and what can you share with others? Who do we know who could use a peanut butter sandwich? Do you need a peanut butter sandwich or a peanut butter visit? Who else can we feed? Because “hunger” comes in all forms – spiritual, physical, and/or emotional. Sometimes the act of bringing chicken soup, a PB and J, or cup of coffee isn’t as much about the food as the notion of not being forgotten. Or feeling disconnected to the Almighty. Can there be anything worse than that?
They’ll know we are Christians by our love – this is how we reflect Christ’s love - by feeding the world, one sandwich, one smile at a time. We are a community for change. A new day has begun for Christ’s people. As our brother’s and sister’s keepers we can be attuned to the various ways we can help feed our lonely neighbors in need. And when we do, we will feed not only them, but Thee and us, too!
For me, CCUMC will always be “The Peanut Butter Church,” a nickname reflective of many loving hearts, and given with great affection. Making PBJs remains one of my favorite church activities. And as long as we remain committed to angels unknown, and the least among us, our faith family will be a church no force can stop, because the Power within us is the Almighty Himself.