The Furlough Kitchen of Houston
July 6, 2020
“It is not an accident that so many life-changing encounters with Jesus coincide with meals. When we give of ourselves to feed others, God shows up, even if we don’t get the chance to sit at the table with them.”
These words belong to Nathan Lonsdale Bledsoe, pastor of St. Stephen’s UMC in Houston. Conceptually, they have shaped his ministry, especially right now. Houston is at a terrible crossroads. The oil and gas industry has experienced monumental downturns, COVID cases are rising, hospitals are reaching capacity, and unemployment is high.
With so many families struggling, Nathan wanted to do something that would make a difference. His best friend, Lucas Marr, did too. When they saw the Furlough Kitchen in Dallas, a pop-up collaboration that got meals to needy people, they loved the idea and wanted to bring it to Houston. After reaching out to the founders, they received permission to move forward, creating the Furlough Kitchen of Houston.
They hired furloughed chefs to start making restaurant-quality meals from the church’s kitchen and served 1,000 meals in their first month. Families sign up to receive plates of food, prepared and packaged in a safe manner, and then they come to the church in an assembly line to pick up the meals without contact.
It is a simple process for families who need food and a fulfilling way for church members to serve, who want to embody the idea that God is in their neighborhood, not just in their building. “If the pandemic has shown the church anything, it is that to survive and thrive into the next generation and into the world, we need to think about how we are equipping people to be the church beyond Sunday mornings,” Nathan shared.
One of the ways they are being the church beyond Sunday mornings is by developing partnerships for this ministry. When their Furlough Kitchen started, local businesses wanted to support their efforts, because they believed the church was making a difference in the community. A bakery has provided 100 baguettes each time they are open. Another local restaurant, Rainbow Lodge, donated all the ingredients for one of their first meals. Additionally, businesses are sharing their supplier contacts, so the church can receive the most cost-effective ingredients.
These partnerships showcase God’s everyday work in the world and they have helped make this ministry sustainable. Sustainability is incredibly important because the summer months are already a financial strain for most churches and COVID has made that strain worse. Along with their new business connections, another partnership has also buoyed the church’s work during this stressful time. St. Stephen’s received a microloan from TMF, a small loan with minimal interest designed to assist churches in the pandemic.
With the microloan, St. Stephen’s could offer up their kitchen without concerns about utility costs. They could be innovative and approach ministry based on a community need, not based on their immediate giving trends. While Christian faith is meant to be sustaining no matter how unpredictable our circumstances become, the church as an institution is not sustained by faith alone, so these partnerships and the microloan have expanded the ministry work that is possible.
“TMF had courage to give loans and grants in the middle of a crisis,” Nathan shared. “That has allowed churches to act with courage to meet people where they are and do the kind of ministry we need to do in difficult situations. TMF was willing to stand in the gap for us and that brings peace of mind.”
If you believe your church would benefit from a TMF microloan, like St. Stephen’s did, please click here to learn more.