Soup Kitchen à la Alpha

I caught wind (read Bishop Keith sent me an email) of a story unfolding in Sault Ste. Marie.  So I contacted Marc McAlister, Senior Pastor at Sault Ste. Marie FMC, to get the scoop. 
For the past three Monday evenings members of Marc’s congregation have prepared and served dinner at a downtown community soup kitchen.  This is cool for a bunch of reasons.  #1 – The Soup Kitchen typically only serves lunch so adding another meal to the day feeds more people.  #2 – This is a community kitchen funded through government grants and The United Way – no affiliation to any church or Christian organization whatsoever.  #3 (and the coolest) – This Monday night dinner is served with a side of Alpha.
When I asked Marc how the Alpha Soup Kitchen came to be he said, “There was no master plan on this.”   He didn’t want to sound cliché by saying it was a “God thing” but after hearing the story, I’m leaning towards the cliché big time.
In a blog-style nutshell it looked like this: a women’s small group from Sault Ste. Marie FMC went to clean at the Soup Kitchen for a day as part of a Love, Pray, Serve city wide event.  As one participant told Marc, “I cleaned for three hours and I don’t think I moved two feet.”  This led to the women spending one Saturday morning a month cleaning The Soup Kitchen.  Independent of this, another small group from the church decided to provide a Christmas dinner for The Soup Kitchen rather than a dinner out for themselves.  There were also other contact points happening between individuals in The Soup Kitchen and the church.  As a result, relationships were formed and trust was built.
Sault Ste. Marie FMC is pretty passionate about the Alpha course and has offered it for many years at the church.  But as Marc told me the idea of “telling the Jesus story outside the walls of this building kept percolating in everyone’s mind.”
Some of the women volunteering at The Soup Kitchen were also involved in Alpha and they realized this might be the place to tell the Jesus story.  As Marc describes, “One day they just asked (the Soup Kitchen director) can we do this?  And to everyone’s surprise we got permission.”  
The first dinner was a year in the making; not the actual meal, just the planning part.  Small groups from the church prepare the dinner off site or in The Soup Kitchen.  Dinner is served at 6:30 pm followed by a couple of songs, the Alpha DVD, dessert and then discussion groups.  
They were not sure how many would show up that first night as it was mainly advertised through word of mouth at The Soup Kitchen.  Turns out sixty people showed for dinner, forty stayed for the Alpha DVD and twenty hung around for dessert and discussion.  
I love the words Marc used to describe that first night: “scary,” “deep end of the pool,” and “stretching people outside of their comfort zones.”  Pretty real stuff.
Those preparing and serving the food are encouraged out of the kitchen, so everyone eats together.  The “those people” barrier is slowly breaking down as people sit together to share a meal and conversation.  It sounds like everyone involved is being nourished in all kinds of ways.  
This first Alpha Soup Kitchen runs for eight weeks but Marc acknowledges that it is bigger than an eight week commitment and they are trying to figure out a sustainable relationship in between Alpha courses.  As Marc told me, “We are being obedient here and loving people, feeding people, and some people are getting a message; and that is what we are supposed to do.  It’s not about getting a bunch of people to sign up for our thing.”
It all sounds very encouraging and healthy.  Hey, maybe this Marc fellow should be involved in some kind of healthy churches ministry?
To be continued…
By: Alison McKinnon
Social Media Journalist