THE aroma of fried chicken and green beans wafted through the kitchen of Community Church of Columbus on a recent morning as Renee Kasting and JoAnn Meek scurried to prepare a lunch for 55 people. Neatly arranged white tablecloths presented an inviting picture in the dining room.
A member whose husband had died soon would bring her family to the church for a post-funeral meal.
“This gives grieving families a chance to relax,” Kasting said. “And it takes the stress off of them to prepare food for so many. If we can take care of their basic needs, then they can be with their family and let the Lord comfort them.”
Therein lies the essence of the outreach offered by area churches aiming to blend practical service with a spiritual bent. Call it big hearts on a small budget, given the nature of home-cooked, carry-in dishes.
“We just want things to be very special for people at a hard time like this,” Meek said.
The church — which today averages about 1,700 congregants each week — launched the program years ago when it saw fewer than 100 members. Church volunteers would hear of a local family’s tragedy and then would make phone calls to the family to see if they had someone to organize a bereavement meal.
If there was no other church in the picture to provide the service, Community Church of Columbus members would offer to cook for them — no strings attached — as an expression of God’s love in a trying time. Volunteers say that many of the families were so touched by the gesture that they joined the church.
“But that was never our plan,” said Jeanne Ford, one of the organizers of the meals with Joyce Bragg. “We just wanted to love on the people.”
At Columbus’ Grace Lutheran Church, reaching out after a death is a natural family reaction, said Cindy Meyer, who has coordinated Grace’s funeral meals for three years.
She has handled dinners for as many as 120 people in the church’s fellowship hall.
“You’d do a meal for your family at home,” Meyer said. “And your church members simply are your extended family.
“And you certainly want to do it for them. It’s not at all burdensome. It’s something we’re always willing to do for them.”
She estimated that eight to 10 church members cook for each meal as she directs. Normally, they have a day or two notice to plan a meal built around a family’s tastes. Fried chicken is a favorite.
“We always get warm fuzzies (from the diners),” Meyer said.
Taylorsville’s Aaron Green appreciated the effort that Columbus’ Blessed Life Fellowship put forth after his mother died in January.
The newer, small church of about 50 people at that time presented a post-funeral pitch-in — the first such outreach the members did — for 30 of his family members.
“Oh, man, it was amazing,” Green said. “They just told me, ‘We’re here for you.’”
He remembers the experience for more than the food. Others taking care of the meal gave him additional time to speak with a friend who had attended the funeral.
Green said that his friend had been struggling with meth addiction. But in the middle of the meal, the friend decided to change his life, pray with Pastor Kyle Brooks and become a Christian.
“That,” Green said, “was awesome.”