Members and friends worshiped together, then packed 10,000 meals to feed neighbors near and far
October 26, 2023
Over the summer, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, put service into its worship service.
The Rev. Chris Peters, Westminster’s head of staff, offered a monthlong “When Life Shows Up to Church” preaching series by considering the question, “What do we do when the storms of life show up to church?”
During worship on Aug. 6, the answer was clear: After hearing Peters’ sermon based on Matthew’s account of feeding 5,000 families, about 130 people worshiping not in Westminster’s sanctuary but in the church’s gymnasium donned hairnets and plastic gloves to pack 10,000 meals for People’s City Mission, Lincoln’s primary homeless shelter, as well as for people in the Omaha and Winnebago reservations through another partner, Heartland Kids Against Hunger.
As people packed the cinnamon oatmeal kits, which they packaged and boxed assembly-line style, Peters said he witnessed “a sense of enthusiasm, a good bit of laughter and conversation,” including what became a catchphrase among those gathered: Once 36 kits of six meals each had been boxed and were ready to go, the crowd would call out, “1,2,3 — send it!”
“People were very joyful,” Peters said of the unique service. “The gym was packed.”
In his sermon recorded before the service and adapted for the Aug. 6 “service of service” in the Westminster gym, Peters said the group effort “is a reminder that while we find hope and reflection and grace in our time and space of worship together, life still shows up to church, because we’re human.”
“A person who’s hungry may show up while a Bible study is meeting in the church library,” Peters said. “A person who’s been excluded from worship at another church might show up seeking to be included in this space … No matter where we go, our faith goes with us, and no matter where we go, life shows up.”
If we put faith first, “when life shows up on our doorstep, whatever the need … then we act like Jesus, who in the Scripture is such a compelling example of what God intends when life shows up,” he said. “We see others with compassion, not self-interest.”
Peters highlighted two points about the gospel text for that Sunday, Matthew 14:13–21. “First, notice at the beginning Jesus was heading for some ‘me time,’ seeking a space of prayer,” he said. But the crowds followed him, and rather than turn people away, Jesus felt empathy for them, curing the sick and “sharing the good news of God’s kingdom in word and in deed.” With financial help from Westminster’s foundation, that’s what those gathered were prepared to do that Sunday, Peters said.
“Life shows up to church with us — maybe in our own worries, our own hurts, in those neighbors who show up sitting down the pew or watching down the hall,” he said. “The concerns on our hearts and in our minds, our fears and our worries — that’s life showing up to church, showing up in this time and space of worship, in those neighbors we may choose to ignore.”
The second point was that “when the disciples had a scarcity mindset, Jesus responded with abundant sharing,” Peters said. “We are called — and thank goodness we are empowered by the Holy Spirit — to look out with abundance and to act accordingly with our own abundance mindset, knowing the gift of abundance is a gift of grace from God.”
“Today as we worship, we recognize those who stand in our gym under basketball nets and over three-point lines acting with an abundance mindset, packing 10,000 meals together. We recognize those who have given to our foundation over the years for endowments that support this work of service today,” Peters said. “We’re saying worship is bigger than ‘me, me, me’ and is about ‘us, us, us,’ because life shows up to church. When life shows up to church, we share and we serve, partnering with organizations that have resources we don’t have as a church.”
Westminster plans to revisit its service of service next spring, Peters said.
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska serving the community
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Natarsha Sanders, Associate for Intercultural Leadership Development & Recruitment. Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Sung-Joo Park, Korean-Speaking Representative, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program
Let us pray
With all the saints, we pray that we all may have the wisdom to comprehend the breadth, the length, the height and the depth of the love of Christ. We pray that we may all know this love that surpasses understanding, so that all may be filled with the fullness of God. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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