By Forrest White
The Rev. Michelle Matthews and members of The Kingstowne Communion in Alexandria weren’t able to worship together because of the wintry weather on Sunday morning, Jan. 13, but it didn’t stop them from doing what they always do – looking for ways to live out the church’s mission statement:
To gather people into communion with Jesus Christ through courageous conversation, creative community, and collaborating for the common good.
That snowy evening, their hearts were heavy because of the partial government shutdown and the effect it was having on countless people in their community. Two of the church’s nursery workers have loved ones serving in the Coast Guard. Unlike other branches of the military, the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which operates on emergency orders because of the ongoing shutdown, so its members aren’t getting paid.
The church wanted to help, so Matthews reached out to the local Ledo’s Pizza looking to collaborate for the common good. If the church advertised that it would pay for dinner for furloughed workers and their family members as well as anyone not receiving regular government assistance, would Ledo’s offer $5 calzones? Yes! The deal was struck and “Calzones to say We Care” was set for Wednesday the 16th.
The Kingstowne Communion advertised the event on its Facebook page and other social media platforms and spread the word at Fort Belvoir, which is less than five miles from Island Creek Elementary School where the church has its worship services.
“We had a crazy turnout,” Matthews said. “About 125 people came to eat calzones.”
At least half of them had ties to the Coast Guard.
The massive turnout overwhelmed the Ledo’s staff, so church folks jumped in to take orders and bus tables.
But that wasn’t their most important work that evening.
“We walked around and talked to every table,” Matthews said. “We said, ‘We’re so sorry life is like this right now.’ Over and over and over again we heard, ‘This is such a morale booster for us, to go out and have a meal together.’ They were so, so grateful.”
Members of the church felt compelled to help cover the cost of the meals at Ledo’s. Some wrote checks. Some handed Matthews cash. Around 9 that night, a church member texted to say they would cover the rest of the bill. In the end, the church had to pay nothing out of its missions’ budget.
“We have a budget for missions, but that money is mostly spoken for,” Matthews said. “It was kind of a step out in faith to say, ‘This is what we’re going to say missions is right now.’”
The Kingstowne Communion is a small church plant, which grew out of Aldersgate UMC in Alexandria. It began in 2014, but shut down for a few months before returning in the fall of 2016 with its new name and a strong desire not simply to speak of its mission statement, but to live it out as well.
With the shutdown lingering, the church decided to offer another dining out event, this time reaching out to Fiona’s Irish Pub, where its members gather for pub theology. Again, their plan was met with much enthusiasm. The restaurant’s owners have struggled too, with fewer people eating out because of the shutdown.
With more time to advertise, Matthews expects well over 200 people to show up tonight (Jan. 23) from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Fiona’s, which put together a special $5 menu that includes cheeseburgers, chicken pot pie, salads and items for the kids.
Kingstowne Communion created a Facebook fundraiser with a goal of raising $1,000 to cover the tab at Fiona’s. Within six hours, they had $1,100.
The collaborating for the common good piece is really who we are,” Matthews said. “We don’t really do much of anything as a church unless we’re inviting a community partner to do it with us.”
This is true collaboration – co-hosting the event, equal branding, advertising across secular and Christian social media platforms, etc.
“This is how it’s able to happen so successfully,” Matthews said.
She encourages churches everywhere to look for ways to partner with local businesses to make life better for those who may be struggling in the midst of the shutdown or with some other challenge.
“There are things you could be doing if you’re just willing to make the ask, right?” she said. “Where is the place in your area? What’s the family restaurant in your area that’s probably already having the conversation, ‘What can we do to help?’ I think this should happen all over the place.”
Unless the shutdown ends, expect Kingstowne Communion to keep living out its mission statement by feeding lots of people next Wednesday evening.
“We’ll keep doing it until this (shutdown) is over,” Matthews said.
You may reach the Rev. Michelle Matthews via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
To give via the Kingstowne Communion Facebook fundraiser visit: https://www.facebook.com/donate/342921609646626/
Or give to the Kingstowne Communion (indicate special offering): kingstownecommunion.net/give
-Forrest White is a news associate with the conference Communications office.