The Oct 2003 issue of The Psalter, the monthly newsletter of Calvary Episcopal Church, Columbia, Missouri, saluted my first cousin, Nancy Luther, for her long involvement in what sounds like a wonderful ministry. See also a more recent Columbia Daily Tribune article about this ministry.

The Living Out Our Baptismal Covenant Series

Nancy Luther: Loaves and Fishes

This is the first in a continuing series about individuals and groups in the Calvary family who are living out their service to others.

For more than 25 years, Nancy Luther has been feeding and befriending the homeless at Loaves and Fishes, a soup kitchen operated in conjunction with St. Francis house in downtown Columbia. She joined the ministry shortly after its founding, and with a friend who was involved in the Catholic Worker movement, volunteered to run the kitchen on Sunday nights. After a couple of years Nancy's friend felt the need to withdraw from the ministry, so Nancy brought the ministry to Calvary and recruited friends from the parish to help her on Sunday nights.

The ministry has changed some over the years. Nancy no longer works every Sunday. Now, three different ministry teams take one Sunday [each], and Broadway Christian Church takes the fourth Sunday. The Education for Ministry study group, for example, takes one Sunday [per] month as a part of the spiritual development process. Each group takes a different approach to ministry. Some of them purchase their own ingredients and prepare the meals at home, bringing the meals in largely complete. Loaves and Fishes is currently located in a converted public housing apartment and its kitchen is cramped, making it difficult for more than two or three people to work comfortably.

Still others try to take advantage of the Loaves and Fishes pantry, which at times can be fairly well-stocked and they then prepare part of the meals on site. David Allen comments that he tries to prepare high-quality meals. Nancy comments that occasionally some interesting food donations come in: She remembers one occasion when the Candy Factory donated some "flawed chocolate covered strawberries," which were received with enthusiasm.

Nancy comments that she counts on preparing fifty meals, allowing for some of clients coming back for seconds. Most Sundays, about forty homeless -- mostly men -- show up needing a meal. Over the years, Nancy has found most most of the clients to be grateful and considerate. During the meal, she circulates around the room and talks with the clients. They open up to her, talking about their days, and what is happening in their lives. Frequently, they offer to clean up after the meal.

Over the years Nancy has experienced very little friction from the men she serves. Loaves and Fishes has very clear rules concerning intoxication and fighting. Nancy says that over the years, she has learned to be aware of the signals and respond to situations before they develop. Occasionally, she has had to ask a client to leave and they almost always comply. Only on two or three occasions over the past twenty years has Nancy felt it necessary to call the police, who have always been able to [defuse] the situation without incident. Nancy notes that the Columbia Police have developed a non-confrontational style in working with homeless.

Sadly for Calvary -- and for Loaves and Fishes -- the Luthers are moving to Florida in January. The ministry of Loaves and Fishes will go on, and Beth Simpson has taken over as coordinator. The harvest is full and the laborers are -- well, less than plentiful. If you feel the Lord tugging at heart and nudging you in the direction of Loaves and Fishes, let Beth know and she will point you in the right direction. -- Rick Cotner