Covenant Presbyterian Church broadens its reach through active engagement
By Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – “I’m just the pastor. This congregation rocks!”
Such is the outlook of Kirk Perucca, pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church. This small, ethnically diverse congregation located south of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, has been a Presbyterian Hunger Program Certified Hunger Action Congregation since 2017, but has been advocating hunger, fairness and justice issues for most of its 110-year-plus existence.
“Covenant has always been a church that cares deeply about justice,” said Perucca. “In the ’70s and ’80s, we were one of the few true multiracial, predominantly African-American and white congregations around. It’s in our blood to care about justice, access, fairness and hunger; it’s who we’ve been and who we are.”
A shining light of Covenant’s hunger ministry is its food pantry. What started out as an outlet to feed Kansas City’s jazz musicians has gained a far broader reach throughout the community.
“In 2004, when I came to Covenant, we served about 300–400 people per month in the pantry,” said Perucca. “Last year, I estimate we served people that represented more than 10,000 individuals. But we’re kind of radical in our food pantry — we follow Jesus. We don’t ask for two forms of ID and a water bill or check to see if you received food last week. Jesus simply said, ‘Feed my people,’ and we feed God’s people.”
Perucca notes that Covenant’s food pantry is an entrée to making systemic changes that go beyond food and hunger to include social justice issues as well.
“Missouri has postcard voter registration; when you come into our pantry we encourage people to register to vote on the spot. And we’ll mail in the postcards to make sure they are sent. Village Presbyterian Church, which provides food for our pantry, also helps us with a job readiness course that includes resume writing and becoming more computer literate. Those are just a couple of things we’re doing because of people visiting our food pantry.”
“These congregations are making the connection between hunger in their communities and systems that perpetuate hunger,” says Andrew Kang Bartlett, associate for national hunger concerns in the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “Who gets elected will influence whether hunger and poverty are addressed in policies and programs, so they are registering people who are directly impacted. In addition, folks from lower-wealth communities often receive inferior education and limited job skills training. Covenant and Village are addressing this too.”
Making connections between hunger and poverty, and the underlying systemic causes, is the purpose of the Food Week of Action on Oct. 14–21. Dozens of congregations and organizations participate in this week surrounding World Food Day on Oct. 16 to raise awareness and take action to end the root causes of hunger. On World Food Day, Covenant and many new Hunger Action Congregations will be celebrated.
The food pantry’s roots in the community have also afforded Covenant an opportunity to branch out into health and wellness. There is an onsite nurse and two community health workers who ask people who come into the pantry if they have any health concerns. Nearly 700 people have utilized Covenant’s Health & Wellness Center services in the past 18 months. Covenant plans to continue to grow the health and wellness part of their ministry.
“We have a medical doctor here one day a week who sees eight patients,” said Perucca. “We’re working to deepen and strengthen our service to the community. Be it medical service or health care, we’re doing everything we can with our ministry to significantly impact the community and continue to grow it, to see more people, feed more people, be more present and continue to serve God and the community.”
Perucca is quick to state that Covenant isn’t doing this alone. They get critical support from other churches in the presbytery, including Village Presbyterian Church, Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church and Second Presbyterian Church. These local churches help their neighbor congregation by providing food to its pantry every two weeks, enabling a wheelchair lift for access to the building, and providing initial seed money for the Health & Wellness Center.
“We’re reaching out and partnering so that our tiny 87-member congregation has a greater reach. We’re really blessed to have great relationships in our community and this is really a community of need, a community that is underserved in almost every way,” said Perucca. “We have an amazing staff that believes in a ministry of welcome and it’s just incredible that I get to work with all these amazing people.”
The Presbyterian Hunger Program is able to share God’s love with our neighbors in need around the world because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.
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