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“One of the most rewarding things is that people


who are not traditional churchgoers, who might not feel comfortable in a more formal church setting, have done Bible studies as part of the Sunday supper program and even taken communion in that setting,” Ebaugh said. It’s gratifying when these people eventually


become comfortable enough to enter the sanctuary for worship, she added. One of those residents is Julie (last name


withheld) who joined the congregation by way of Food and Fellowship. When the program started, her daughters were part of First’s tutoring program, a connection that led to an invitation to the suppers. Julie would also occasionally make use of the food pantry, which was a godsend, she said. Her positive experience with the program led Julie to attend the regular Sunday morning services. Julie is now an active member who has found


her niche in helping prepare communion, and she’s even started a vegetable garden with the knowledge from First’s programming. The congregation’s commitment to embracing its neighborhood didn’t happen without a few growing


pains. Ebaugh said the effort required members to get outside of their comfort zones and accept that the ministry might get messy and loud at times. “Part of the process has been educating our


traditional members that not everybody coming to church today is going to look like them or act like them, and that’s OK,” she said. As First has become increasingly inclusive,


members have learned that old-school communication methods considered tried-and-true, such as mailing postcards a few weeks in advance of an event, might not be enough. A phone call, text or Facebook message might be the extra nudge that gets someone to participate. The results have been worth the effort, and the


Food and Fellowship program continues to thrive. “This ministry has been transformational to our church,” Ebaugh said.


Scarvey is communications specialist for Lutheran Services Carolinas.


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