Continuing to reach out: Grace’s Table serves up love, hospitality

Pastor Ann Thomas saw more than people enjoying grilled burgers and hotdogs recently outside East Columbus United Methodist Church.

She saw simple warmth and love toward strangers amid the congregation’s Grace’s Table monthly meal outreach.

“I saw true hospitality,” Thomas said. “I saw the kingdom of heaven, where all are equal regardless of social status or wealth or anything else. (Where) all are accepted for who they are.”

The second Sunday of the month gathering began in mid-November at the church at 2439 Indiana Ave.

July 11 marked a basic breakthrough: It was the first time amid the COVID-19 pandemic that church leaders and meal visitors were able to mingle with one another around picnic tables in the youth center parking lot area.

Since that November beginning, the events had been coordinated as a kind of drive-in church, with Thomas broadcasting a short Christian, Biblically-themed story on a car radio frequency along with praise and worship music that music director Terry Snyder coordinates.

People listened and ate in their vehicles after volunteers brought out the food. Overall, the meal-and-story socials stretch maybe half an hour, or longer if visitors wish to stay that long.

“It was so much nicer to be able to sit down face to face and to begin to get to know people,” Snyder said.

The next scheduled Grace’s Table get-together will be with another cookout-style meal at 6 p.m. Aug. 8. If it rains, organizers are hoping to move the event inside the youth center.

Most months, nine or 10 people have attended. But Thomas still believes that the work of overall coordinated Tom Hadley and others is significant in a world where she believes everyone needs to be reminded of kindness and love.

Also, she has emphasized that the meals and more are not about attracting church members for worship, though organizers do let people know they are welcome for any service. Plus, Thomas believes the get-togethers gradually can grow, given enough time to catch on.

“Our team is great, our volunteers are terrific, and they interact so well with the people there,” Thomas said, adding that most visitors have mentioned that they currently are non-churchgoers. “And some of these people have told us they have been looking for a church.”

Organizers mentioned when they launched the ministry that using a basic meal to attract people to fellowship is a Biblical concept. Grace’s Table coordinator Tom Hadley explained that in the beginning in the fall.

“The vast majority of Jesus’ time during his earthly ministry was spent sitting with people and eating with people,” Hadley said, “and ministering to them physically and spiritually and offering them an opportunity for salvation.”