Pandemic Inspires Drive-through Dinners at LCOS in Bethany
February 2, 2021, 12:00 PM

For Lutheran Church of our Savior in Bethany, the pandemic has birthed a new outreach which, I believe, is on the way to becoming a tradition-the free drive-through dinner. This is a story about building community at a time when it’s been hard to even meet people. The subtitle of this story might include something about necessity being the mother of invention. Many of those who drive through (some also come on foot) live in the neighborhood, and even across the street, but some are from across town.

The idea apparently came from Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Kingfisher which did such a dinner. A couple in our church learned about it on Facebook. They thought that surely in this hard economic time there would be hungry people out there. We did our first dinner on June 30, 2020. On January 23, LCOS put on its fourth dinner. Some might wonder about the mechanics of feeding approximately 300 people over the course of 2+ hours in a church parking lot, and how to do it safely. Well, for us, it’s gone like this: pass out flyers in the neighborhood, put up a large sign board, plan a menu, purchase the food with the help of Thrivent and private donors, cook and package the food while social distancing, and place greeters and servers in the parking lot who hand out the meals.

What are we seeing now after having done the 4th meal? One is that we are getting to know our neighbors, and recognizing faces (some have come more than once) and are on the way to understanding our community better. You see, our neighborhood began to “change” in the 1980’s. For us, that has meant that many people in the neighborhood are different than the people of our church. That includes both racial and socio-economic diversity.

How is it working out in terms of Gospel ministry? We are getting to know who’s churched and who’s unchurched. And, we’ve had people from the dinners attend worship services. It’s truly amazing what you can find out while talking with someone driving through a parking lot (people drive up, roll down their windows, are greeted, fill out an info card, and tell us how many meals they need). Anyway, in this short span, you can learn a little bit about the person, prayer needs, and something about their faith life. But more than anything else, these brief encounters have provided a restoration of faith in the idea of “community” and love for neighbor, that these ideas can still be real , tangible, and have proven that it’s possible to “hang out” with people even in a pandemic and in a span of less than 3 minutes.

The drive-through dinner has been so helpful for our church as a way to connect with people at a time when it’s been difficult to even meet someone, let alone develop relationships. It has renewed the energy and passion of people in our church who want to do outreach, and it has also inspired non-members to join us in serving others.

And whether it was barbecue, or chicken tortilla soup, we’ve always made the right amount of food. What a blessing for our church! What a blessing for the community! What a beautiful way to love and get to know new people!

In terms of diversity, we are getting to know Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, and even a family from West Africa. The energy and excitement of making the meal, and then seeing who God brings us is always high. But at the heart level, it’s the gratitude of the recipients who have tearfully told us more than once, “You don’t know what this means for me!” OR “I can’t believe you are doing this for the community!”

For our church, it has meant trying something new. As the couple who first brought up the idea have said, “We didn’t know if this was going to be a one-time event, but the response was so great, and the people we met were so grateful, we felt like we had to do this regularly. We have seen people fed, and God at work.”

(If anyone is interested in trying a drive-through dinner of their own, do not hesitate to call LCOS Bethany. We’d be happy to share our experience. Or, check it out for yourself by attending our next dinner on March 6.)

By Rev. Dr. Gary Rohwer

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