Conference Minister for Christian Formation
Communications Director for CPMC
The smell of lasagna is in the air as guests begin to filter in from the cold. They are warmly greeted by pastor Tim Springer, then make their way through the food line where they are served by smiling members of Milford Mennonite Church before finding a place to sit among the scattered round tables in the fellowship hall. Young volunteers are on hand to deliver beverages. The guests are here for “The Gathering Table,” a bi-weekly Thursday night meal hosted by Milford Mennonite Church for members of the surrounding community.
Started in February 2018, originally the meal was planned for lower-income people in the community, but it has become a place especially for widows and widowers and others who are looking for an excuse to get out of the house for a delicious home-cooked meal and company.
While the food is a draw, both organizers and guests contend that the best part of the evening is the fellowship and the relationships that are built around the tables. The Gathering Table has an average attendance of 125 people, and is always a mix of new and old faces. Very often, regulars invite a friend or two to join them, and many say they look forward to these community meals all week!
Sisters Kris Yeackley and Anika Upton have been in charge of The Gathering Table meals for the past year, calling on volunteers in the church for help with cooking, setting up and serving. In the coming year, they hope to become more ecumenical, involving other congregations in the community in the planning, cooking, hosting, and serving.
Organizers like Kris and Anika and Pastor Tim are clear that the purpose of The Gathering Table is to provide hospitality; a time and place and hot meal for the community to gather around, rather than evangelism. If people want to come to church on Sunday because of the hospitality they experience at The Gathering Table, that is a welcome bonus, but not the purpose.
The success of The Gathering Table has been energizing to the Milford Mennonite Community and Kris and Anika say that this endeavor has become “more than we ever imagined this would be.” They assure others who want to start projects like this one that you don’t have to “know” anything in advance. They jumped in and started cooking and God has taken care of the rest.
Before long, guests start pushing back empty plates, lasagna and salad and dessert long finished, but still, conversation buzzes throughout the fellowship hall. The Gathering Table, once just a wild idea, has indeed become a gathering place for many in the Milford community.