Nashville church loves neighbors with Thanksgiving meals

by Tess Schoonhoven, posted Tuesday, November 26, 2019 (14 days ago)

NASHVILLE (BP) -- "If the Lord brings a need to our attention that can glorify Him, we might as well jump on it," said Alba Rice, member of Immanuel Nashville, when explaining the attitude behind the church's Thanksgiving ministry.

Members of Immanuel Church in Nashville prepare to deliver a Thanksgiving meal to a local family.
Submitted photo
Rice, along with other church members and leaders, organized an outreach in connection with Park Avenue Elementary school in west Nashville to provide a Thanksgiving meal for families in need who otherwise would not have celebrated the holiday.

Immanuel's partnership with the nearby school is three years old. In that time, the church has helped provide lunches for staff work days or treats on birthdays, but Rice said the approach this Thanksgiving was intended to create face-to-face relationships with the school's families.

"This is not a once-a-year thing for us," Rice said. "This is a continuing presence of our church. We wanted to get not just the church to help the school, but people to meet the school families."

The entire process of organizing the meals took about a month, beginning with getting a list of needy families from the school which was then sent to all of the small groups at the church.

Each small group handled the situation a little differently, depending on the specific needs of that family.

Rice said some ordered full meals from services like Hello Fresh while others cooked the entire meal themselves or bought the individual ingredients.

Rice said she hoped the outreach would make the community aware that the love of Christ extends to all, no matter the differences culturally or economically.

"This will not only send a message of 'We love you and we want to be the body of Christ and make Christ non-ignorable,' but we also want to show that we go beyond race, poverty -- any of this -- in order to reach the community for Christ," Rice said.

Nathan and Hannah Clark, members of Immanuel and leaders of a small group, said their experience collecting and delivering a meal to one of the families involved multiple small groups working together.

Nathan said he wanted to find out what the family wanted for their meal, rather than presume he knew their preferences already.

"When I called [the father] I was nervous," Nathan said, "because I'm thinking on the forefront I do not want to present myself as 'Hey let me, a middle class person with this well-to-do group come help you people because you need all the help you can get.' We are helping them, but I didn't want to make them feel shamed for that."

Nathan soon found they each wanted to make the other party feel comfortable and understood.

"I thought 'Oh wow, we're both just trying to be kind and good to each other in this conversation and figure this out.'"

Hannah explained that from the start, she knew there would probably be some differences between how their small group viewed Thanksgiving and how the family they provided a meal for did.

"I didn't want to presume that the way we do Thanksgiving is the way everybody does it," Hannah said.

The effort to understand what the specific family wanted and needed is really what began to build the relationship and create an open door for future communication.

"I think there is a sense of wanting to build a relationship," Hannah said.

"It's the fact that we actually asked him 'What do you want?' instead of 'Hey this is what we're going to give you because this is what you need to have,'" Nathan added.

Both Nathan and Hannah said that a church's benevolence ministries should be handled in a delicate way to ensure that efforts to help aren't causing harm instead.

But for the Clarks, the diligence to have clear communication helped give the family an opportunity to assure them that providing the meal was welcomed and appreciated.

"It was cool to be in a place where we were actually meeting that need," Nathan said.

Nathan noted that communication may be nerve-wracking at first, but with such a positive end result it's worth it to try.

Rice said previous ministry efforts with Park Avenue Elementary have included local restaurants that have donated food for events hosted by the church. The hope with these ministries, she said, is to get the entire community involved in spreading the Gospel.

"We're always looking for projects to do at the school and hopefully the Lord will enlarge our territory," Rice said, adding that providing the meals in person was meant to do more than just finance a meal.

"A lot of them [the families] might be used to a handout, but we want to go beyond a handout to a hug," she said.

Rice said that the community of west Nashville specifically has a sense of lostness when it comes to an understanding of the Gospel.

"You gotta make [Jesus] known," she said. "They [the families] think they know what He looks like, but we need to tell them the truth. The more we can be around the lost, the better."

Rice already has plans for similar outreach events during the Christmas season and is looking ahead for ways to partner with Park Avenue Elementary next spring and summer.

"The Lord's in charge of time, so while we're here, we make the best of it."

Tess Schoonhoven is a staff writer for Baptist Press.
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