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Church café helps community reconnect

Church café helps community reconnect

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church café helps community reconnect

Feb. 1, 2007    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0615}
An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

The Rev. Sarai Maiselle says it really pays to have an early breakfast with a group of friends when you attend the annual gathering of Florida United Methodists each June. You’re sleepy enough to allow the Holy Spirit to do its work.

And that’s what happened to Maiselle, pastor of Forest United Methodist Church in Silver Springs, in 2004. She and a group of six friends were sitting around a table on the campus of Florida Southern College, bleary-eyed and talking about the possibilities of their churches getting involved in ministry. Maiselle said the idea for a Christian café came to mind, but she didn’t really know what to do with it until two years later when the people who could do the ministry and the church came together.

Residents of the Silver Springs community around Forest United Methodist Church enjoy another Friday lunch provided by the church's Christ's Cafe, a weekly meal program offered to anyone in the community. Photo courtesy of Forest United Methodist Church. Photo #07-0511. Web photo only.

The doers were church volunteers who began Christ’s Café, a ministry that serves the community by providing lunch every Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. to more than 50 people and sometimes as many as 100. It operates solely on donations.

Maiselle said the idea came to her because a nearby Catholic Church provided meals Monday through Thursday. “I thought, ‘What do people do on Friday?’ ” she said.

Silver Springs is about 12 miles from Ocala, and many of its residents are removed from the community, according to Maiselle. She said the once-a-week meal has developed into an opportunity for people to come together and talk, as well as eat.

“It has really broken down denominational walls,” she said. “It has broken down the walls of isolation. It’s for the widow or widower. It’s for people who are alone. It’s really created a community center kind of feeling, which is ultimately the function of the church.”

That function at the Silver Springs church is largely made possible by Carol and Chalmer Saylor. The couple retired to the area four years ago from Indianapolis where they were involved in food ministry that provided monthly meals.

The Saylors said eight core volunteers work in the kitchen each week to prepare Christ’s Café meals. The menu is generated around weekly advertising specials.

“From the planning to the cooking to the serving we make the people feel like royalty,” Chalmer Saylor said. “We serve them while they are seated. It’s the way we want to show the love of Christ.”

That love is for anyone — from the person who lives in the area to the passerby — and it’s clear “Jesus is in our midst each week,” Chalmer says. “One week we served a young man with long hair and the obvious dust on his body that tells you he travels the roads. Coming in after everyone else had departed, he hungrily ate two bowls of soup and cornbread and then took a helping of each for his supper.”

Chalmer also recalled the time a young couple, living in a tent in the Ocala Forest, arrived so early the food was not yet ready. “The time waiting was spent sharing the story of their life with a couple who came to serve,” Chalmer said. “Possibly this was what they needed as much as the food.”

Chalmer says mothers have brought their children to Christ’s Cafe for lunch on days when their budgets didn’t stretch quite far enough that month, and some of the area’s senior citizens meet friends there “for a time of fellowship that helps pass the day.”

“Christ’s Cafe holds many stories, some we may not even know, but it is a place where the air vibrates with laughter and joy, and the Holy Spirit dances between each table and touches each heart,” he said.

When the Saylors arrived at Forest United Methodist Church they were pleased to be able to continue a ministry that fit well into their lives and souls.

“God has blessed us,” Chalmer said. “The church council said they would underwrite the ministry, but we have never needed it. It feels good to operate from the donations. We even have started the ‘Good Samaritan Fund’ from the donations that are funneled back into the community. We stand in awe.”

Carol Saylor said the ministry has filled their desires to be a blessing to others. “God is happening,” she said. “The ministry is affirmation of God’s will.”

The spontaneous acts of kindness the ministry has experienced are evidence of that — such as the time a businesswoman was driving from Gainesville to Daytona Beach and saw an advertisement for the ministry, then promptly delivered a check for $50 to the church and quickly disappeared. Three months later the same woman made another donation.

Chalmer said the patrons have told him they miss “a certain something” if they don’t partake of the Friday meal. He said meals are delivered to people who are homebound and people are allowed to take meals home to eat later.

“People come back because they are happy when they’re here,” he said. “They feel the Holy Spirit.”

Carol said the church is striving to be a mission church in a mission field.

Maiselle adds: “This is authentic ministry. We have opened our doors to the community.”

This article relates to Outreach.
*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.