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The Beans and Rice Church: Feeding the Hungry Update

December 13, 2010

By Bill King, Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, Clanton, Alabama

Little would I have known six years ago, October of 2005, that six years later that 12 parishes around the Diocese of Alabama would have also taken up the Beans and Rice Ministry of sharing food with families in need.

In October of 2005, I did not know that Alabama, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture was #1 in the number of residents experiencing “very low” food security. In October of 2005, I would never have thought it possible that Trinity, Clanton, a parish now of more than 70 members, would be sharing over 71/2 tons of food costing about $6,000 (10% of our parish budget) with families in need of a bridge to having enough food each month nor did I think it possible that the 12 Beans and Rice churches in the Diocese of Alabama would be providing more than 40 tons of food to families this year.

So, here we are in the summer of 2011, ready to provide 15 pounds of food items,

including beans and rice and so much more, to about 70 families planning to come by Trinity Church on the first Saturday of each month. Trinity definitely is still defined as a small church by every statistical standard, but we have become known as the “Beans and Rice” Church in Clanton, Alabama.

 

Since that October Saturday in 2005, the membership of the parish has doubled, our church attendance every Sunday has doubled and our parish operating budget has tripled. I am more and more convinced that Trinity, Clanton is a growing congregation because the parish operates out of a theology of abundance and sharing rather than that of scarcity and hording.

Here we are in the summer of 2011 with 12 parishes and Campus Centers all around the Diocese of Alabama now known as the “Beans and Rice” church in their own ommunities. These twelve congregations all share food, with no questions asked and with no forms to be completed, sharing with families who come by in need of food to sustain their families for a few more days each month. And, sometime in September of this year, for the 2nd year, a few members from each of our Beans and Rice churches will gather together in Anniston, in convocation, to share a beans and rice meal, discuss best practices to continue as we grow the Beans and Rice ministry model in our communities and to remember who we are as servants of Jesus Christ.

 

This growing Beans and Rice partnership began 35 years ago at the Presbyterian Church, USA in Prairie Grove, Arkansas and that model passed on to us is what we now pass on to others.

 

The core values of this food sharing are simple: “To feed the hungry with no questions asked, no lists of names and no pre-conditions set; to share the food that we have gathered as Jesus taught us to do when he said to his disciples ‘for I was hungry and you gave me food and I was thirsty and you gave me drank.’” (Matt. 24:35)

The Beans and Rice ministry is very simple and do-able by every church of any size. We advertize monthly with a sign board on the street in front of the church for one week before the Saturday morning food sharing and we promise free uncooked beans (2 pounds of pinto beans) and rice (3 pounds of rice) to every family. No questions asked and no names taken. We just keep track of how many families we serve and how many pounds of beans and rice we share. From the beginning, that has been our promise.

 

The first month, we also provided a jar of peanut butter. Over the past five and 1/2 years, our food distribution has grown from serving 10 families the first month to an average of serving 70+ families. Some of the Beans and Rice churches are now serving up to 150 families each month.

 

But while the primary promise remains that of providing uncooked beans and rice to every family, the ministry now normally provide onions and potatoes purchased from a farmers market, usually five or six cans of vegetables and some protein such as tuna fish or some frozen chicken quarters or hot dogs around the 4th of July and often some bars of soap or tooth brushes and some candy at Christmas. In all, most of the Beans and Rice churches are now able to offer about 10 to 15 pounds of food per household as a monthly food supplement. And this entire ministry is carried out by the members of each participating parish.

The Beans and Rice ministry does not define Trinity, Clanton or any of the parishes listed at the end of this update, but rather it is a visible reminder to all of our members that we can take seriously the teaching of Jesus about when is it that we see you hungry and give you something to eat. (Matthew 25: 31-46) We are all honored to now be known in the market places of our communities as the “Beans and Rice Church”.

Current Beans and Rice ministries within the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama:

Holy Spirit, Alabaster Campus Center, St. Luke’s, Jacksonville

Christ Church, Albertville Holy Comforter, Gadsden

Grace Church, Anniston

St. Michael/All Angels, Anniston,

St. Catherine’s, Chelsea

Trinity, Clanton Parishes exploring this ministry:

St. Philip’s, Fort Payne Calvary Church, Oneonta

Epiphany, Tallassee Resurrection, Gadsden

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