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Church embraces a history of service

Early Matthew 25 church welcomes everyone to the ‘table’

by Melody K. Smith | Presbyterian News Service

Volunteers prepare meals for pickup as part of The Welcome Table food ministry at Briargate Presbyterian Church in Louisville. (Photo by Kevin Kouba)

LOUISVILLE — The Welcome Table is the feeding ministry at Briargate Presbyterian Church on the southwest side of Louisville. Since April 2019, this small but mighty church of approximately 50 members is following the Matthew 25:31–46 call to actively engage in the world around us.

For The Welcome Table, it is about hospitality.

Briargate signed on to the Matthew 25 vision in May 2019 as the third church to join the journey. Today, more than 1,000 churches, mid councils and groups have signed on to become a Matthew 25 church recognizing Christ’s urgent call to be a church of action.

Kevin Kouba, music director for Briargate for more than 20 years, took on the mantle of leading this ministry because he felt right at home in a kitchen. With a background in restaurant management, it was a good fit — and a good call.

Kevin Kouba, music director and coordinator for The Welcome Table ministry, shows off his industrial-size strainer, which is needed to cook for over 225 people each week. (Contributed photo)

“As the congregation began to shrink, the music part of my ministry has become less of a necessity and demand on my time,” said Kouba. “So, we took on this hospitality ministry as a team.”

Women in the church had various fundraisers to help with a $100,000 project to make the church kitchen a commercial kitchen equipped to feed upward of 225 people per week. Other local Presbyterian churches also donated from their own capital campaigns.

Most volunteers are familiar with home kitchens and are good cooks as well, but they don’t have to be. The Welcome Table volunteers are not all from the church, but the local community as well.

“This is more than just poverty work,” said Kouba. “We didn’t intend just to feed. We had plans for other resources, but then COVID-19 happened.”

With The Welcome Table as the only Dare to Care kitchen in the area, the pandemic increased the number of people needing to be fed. They knew they couldn’t stop, but they had to find a way to continue and keep everyone safe.

Relationships with local restaurants enable The Welcome Table volunteers to reheat the end of day’s leftovers for the food ministry. (Photo by Kevin Kouba)

They started with making relationships with local restaurants, like Kentucky Fried Chicken, where they now pick up their leftovers to reheat and distribute. They are using disposable containers, rethinking the process of serving outside, addressing physical access issues and improving traffic flow around the pickup site.

“Because John [Odom, presbyter for Community Life at Mid-Kentucky Presbytery] and I have both volunteered at The Welcome Table, we see the difference it is making in the community, continuing with its hunger ministry/feeding program despite the challenges of COVID-19,” said the Rev. Emily Enders Odom, mission interpretation project manager for Mission Engagement & Support. “When you consider the size of the Briargate congregation, it’s remarkable that these faithful volunteers have kept this ministry going.”

This isn’t Briargate’s first ministry in community service or food. It’s had a community garden for over 10 years. “It provides more than just food,” said Kouba. “For gardeners, they consume some of what they grow and sell the rest. It provides a path for self-sustainability.”

When considering how and when to bring people back inside, they have new challenges to overcome. Because they have grown the numbers of how many they serve during the pandemic, they are unsure as to how to do it safely and practically inside. However, they are determined to figure it out.

In the meantime, they continue to help in other ways, like assisting people through the process of financial and housing assistance applications and ministering to their spiritual and support needs as well.

“We couldn’t do it without support of our volunteers,” said Kouba. “Service has always been part of our church’s history.”


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