As I ran up the steps of the library, I noticed a white tent just across the street in the common area by the fountain. On the sidewalk stood a yellow sign advertising "Free Lunch: All are Welcome." I remembered that I had seen these people there once before when I had come to the library at lunchtime on a Saturday. At the top of the steps a friendly woman caught my attention and asked me if I'd like a free lunch. "Hotdogs and lemonade," she said. I was hungry. A hotdog sounded good. "I might come by when I'm done," I said. She looked pleased.
After checking out the magazine section and determining only a few of the periodicals on my list were represented, I found two books, made it through the check out line and headed over to the free lunch. I rarely eat hotdogs, but suddenly the thought of eating one would not leave my mind. I still had grocery shopping to do and figured that some lunch would give me the energy to do it. When I passed by the sign again, I noticed that it said, "God loves you and this is the way He is showing you." Or something similar to that. Unfortunately I didn't think to take its picture. No church name. Just an assurance of God's love. Now, I'm not sure that God shows me love through hotdogs, but I welcomed the service that this group of people was offering to our community, and I kept thinking of what a different sort of ministry it was to offer free lunch to all and not to "the homeless" or "those in need." Part of me felt a little guilty for taking them up on their offer, but I was hungry, and I wanted to know more about their ministry.
|Common Area across from Library|
Alex was quite chatty. Seems she attends the church serving the meal, and she also goes to many other churches. She had thick, dark auburn hair with a faded dusty rose cloth flower tucked behind her ear. She wore a summer sleeveless dress that I discovered had an image of Belle and the Beast from Disney's Beauty and the Beast in little diamonds all over it. She spoke of how much she loved church and how important it was for us to love everyone. When she asked me if I had a church, I told her a bit about what I do and described the Sundays @ 7 service at SpiritWorks with the homemade ice cream.
"Churches should always have food," she said. She thought it was good that churches feed people and admitted it helped her to save money on groceries. She said she didn't care about denominations, just that we were loving people like God loved us. Somehow the conversation turned to violence, and Melvin, in his Tampa Bay Sting Rays ball cap, brought up the Charleston shooting and how we can get shot in schools and churches now. He said a man had been shot right outside his house, that someone had used the ice cream truck to lure the man out into the street. He kept repeating that, "Can you believe they used the ice cream truck?" And then he said, "It's not about race. It's pink on pink. White on white. Black on black. Asian on Asian." He shook his head. Alex said she thought we just needed to make a choice every day to spread God's love and not to be violent ourselves. When I got up to leave, she hugged me and I offered a blessing to them both after thanking them for being my lunch companions.
Eating a hotdog at a free lunch with complete strangers is very much out of my comfort zone. And yet, I found myself observing my new friends with my reawakened writer's eye, trying to memorize what they looked like and how they spoke, amazed at their willingness to share with me. I was reminded of the Prayer Station at CNU. I'm glad I accepted the offer of a free lunch and encountered some people who will live on in my memory, though I may never see them again. Though I would probably disagree with some of the theology of the church offering the free lunch, I have nothing but admiration for this ministry they provide and the way in which they provide it. On my way out I saw a table with some Bibles and postcards advertising their church. It was there and available, but off to the side, no pressure to buy.
Free lunch for all invites the community together. I may not have needed a hotdog, but I think I needed that reminder of God's love, that coming together of people from many walks of life, to share a meal and some conversation, to get to know one another a little better, to meet a stranger and make a connection. I needed that concrete reminder of seeds being planted. Thanks, Agape Mission Church, for your gracious outreach to Williamsburg. Thanks, God, for the countless ways you show your love for us.