This week I got to join the AfterHours UMC in Denver, Colorado, in handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at a downtown city park. I joined a group of other primarily United Methodist volunteers to provide sandwiches to anyone wanting one, mainly Denver’s homeless. This unique ministry is led by Rev. Jerry Herships, who refers to himself as the Chief Love Monger and Lead Spiritual Entrepreneur of AfterHours. Not only are people offered a sandwich, chips, and beverage, but they’re also given toiletry items, new socks, and other items as they’re available.
But even more significant, this seven-day-a-week noontime ministry offers communion to anyone interested along with the lunch. About half of the 50 or so people each day take advantage of this opportunity. When the church began doing this three years ago, they discovered that many hadn’t had communion in years. Obviously providing this ministry every day of the week requires a significant number of volunteers. Downtown businesses have gotten involved, a nearby college, many local United Methodist churches (UMC), and even non-UMCs.
The ministry is sponsored by AfterHours, which is a unique UMC that meets in several Denver bars each month. The church describes itself as “a faith and action community that serves the poor and unchurched of metro Denver. We gather in bars, beer coasters are our main form of advertising, our music is from the preacher’s iPod and we prefer discussions to sermons.” Its slogan is “Love more. Laugh more. Judge less.”
According to its pastor, Rev. Herships, the church is made up of several congregations. It meets at two bars (It’s adding a third.) at 8pm two different Mondays every month. It also meets another week each month to discuss questions of faith. Each of these attracts a unique group of people–a congregation. A part of their worship includes a time to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which are then passed out at noon in the park. Rev. Herships says that for many of the homeless, the mid-day gathering has become their church too.
When asked if they aren’t doing more harm by handing out sandwiches, creating a dependency relationship with those coming, Jerry points out that many of those receiving food have jobs, even full-time jobs, but aren’t paid a living wage. So it’s a justice issue. In addition, Jerry points to the fact that the sandwiches and communion are simply ways to build relationships with people who normally have their guard up. They provide them with tangible, consistent reminders of God’s unconditional love. And, as a result, those receiving them become a part of Christ’s church right there in downtown Denver.
So how is your church responding to God’s call for us to give a p.b. & j., I mean, a cup of cold water to the thirsty?
— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development