“5 Months and Counting at Café Connection” by Logan Dodge

Café Connection has now been in operation for over 5 months! It has been a wild and exciting ride and we are excited to see where the spring and summer months take us. Over the winter we maintained our service to many people and now that the weather is turning warmer, we anticipate that we could see even more guests join us. Often, we get so caught up in the numbers and the statistics of how many meals we served and how many guests come on a specific night, but we also need to look beyond those metrics and look at all the individual lives that the Café has had an impact on.

At this point in our operation, we see a lot of the same families and individuals come on a weekly basis. To me this shows more of the Café’s success then any metric ever could, the fact that we have become a destination in our guests’ week. When guests walk in the door, they are usually greeted using their first name because we have gotten to know them so well. We have many stories of our guests requesting to have a specific server because they have enjoyed them so much in the past. We also have related stories of people asking where certain volunteers are if they are not working that week. We have guests wanting to interact with us and have a deeper connection, besides the simple “hello and goodbye,” which lets us know that the Café is bringing First Baptist Church closer to the community of Jackson.

“We have guests wanting to interact with us and have a deeper connection, besides the simple ‘hello and goodbye,’ which lets us know that the Café is bringing First Baptist Church closer to the community of Jackson.”

The guests are not the only people that this mission is for, the Café is having a major impact on our volunteers as well. It has been so amazing to watch who has come out to volunteer with us, we have a solid group of volunteers that are with us almost every week. They are the ones that got in on the ground floor of Café Connection and have made it run so smoothly. It has been a joy to see those folks continue to be excited about this mission and continue to improve the areas that they volunteer in.

We have also been able to meet and interact with volunteers that were not part of the church prior to the Café opening. New volunteers have brought friends and family with them to volunteer. Now, we are seeing an even bigger step, the friends and family of new volunteers have brought their own friends and family to serve with us. The Café has brought so many amazing people through our doors and into our lives. I personally have enjoyed meeting new volunteers and getting to know them on a personal level.

Something that many people would not know if they have never been to the Café is that this is a place were both guests and volunteers want to come back each week. This is not your average “church meal,” in fact most nights you may not even feel like you are at a church. We have found that because the Café operates like a restaurant and people are treated like they would be if they went to any restaurant, it makes everyone more comfortable. Our goal is not to force the church on our guests; we are here as a steppingstone for people to see what our church community is about. If at some point a guest or new volunteer feels ready to join us for service on Sunday, they will not walk in as strangers but as guests familiar with our church family.

As a church we can sometimes forget how intimidating it is for some to walk into a church like ours. Most of us have been going to this church our entire lives so we do not give it a second thought. For some people, especially those who might have had some bad church experiences in the past, just walking in the door of a church is a challenging thing to do. The Café was built to bridge that gap by bringing guests in with the simple offer of food and community. We want to show our guests that we serve everyone with dignity no matter who they are or what they look like.

If you have not been to Café Connection before or if you have not been in a while, I would strongly encourage you to come any Wednesday and see how we are serving our community. Or if you want to be part of the serving, contact myself or the church office and find out how you can be put on the volunteer schedule. This Café has become such a special place, not only for our guests but for our church family and friends as well. We could not be more proud of the relationships we have created, and we intend to continue that mission.

 

 


This article appears in the April-May 2022 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.

“A Dream in the Making” by Logan Dodge

About five years ago I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a video about a church in California that opened their doors to serve the homeless population in their community for Thanksgiving. Now initially that story doesn’t really stick out from the crowd, at first glance it was another good story about a church helping those in need, a tale as old as time. As I continued to watch the news story it got into why this church was different.

Normally at a soup kitchen or community food service facility it is set up either in a cafeteria style service or some other way that has the guests move through a line and collect the prepared food from volunteers. This is not in any way a bad process and is very efficient to serve as many people as possible. This California church in the video took a different approach to their serving style and took the food to the guests rather then have the guests come to them. They had many tables set up in a large common area in the church with white tablecloths and center pieces. It had the look and feel of a restaurant and what really set it over the top was they had servers for the tables to take orders for the Thanksgiving Dinner. The servers were dressed like ones in a high-end eatery: white dress shirts, black pants, and black aprons. Dinners were served on elegant dishware and everyone was welcomed to eat in this dignified establishment. It was this video that put the idea in my head that one day First Baptist could serve our community in this type of restaurant style experience.
Now a task like this does not just happen, it takes time, commitment, people, equipment, and support on many facets. For this reason, among many others, it has taken over five years to get the momentum for this endeavor.

To prepare for the first board meeting of 2021, we were asked to come up with some ideas on what mission the church could take on. We were told to think as wild and crazy as we could; there were no limits. The goal was to come up with ideas, not a fully operational plan; all we wanted were some big thoughts that might be out of the box to encourage our church to find their signature mission.

With that direction, I decided that it was time I let someone else know of the dream I had of starting a restaurant in our church to serve our community. Since I had been thinking about this mission for over five years, I had some big ideas about what I wanted it to look like. I kept to the directions given and didn’t give much thought about how we were going to make it all happen. I presented my vision to the other board members to see what they had to say. Once I got done going on and on about what a great idea I thought I had, I waited anxiously for comments. To my great surprise many liked the idea and even started coming up with other opportunities that this mission could eventually lead to in the future. There were some questions about how we go about getting something like this started but I told them that I didn’t have any answers at that time! By the end of this meeting we collectively decided as a board that this was a mission we wanted to pursue. There were many unanswered questions, a ton of unknowns, and for me personally, I didn’t even know where to start.

Fast forward to September and we have almost completed our kitchen updates and are almost ready to open the doors to Café Connection. We have figured out many of the unanswered questions that we had in the beginning. With that lengthy intro, let’s get to what Café Connection is all about!

What is Café Connection?

Jesus said when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome in the stranger, it’s as if we’re serving Jesus. We find blessing in blessing others. Located in the heart of downtown Jackson we have many opportunities to bless our neighbors with food and dignified hospitality.

Café Connection is a place to serve a restaurant style dinner experience with warm food, excellent service, and creative opportunities for meaningful conversation. We hope to cultivate people who share meals as a way of nutritional, social, and spiritual growth. Through the simple act of food service, we are looking to provide connection. Connecting our church to our community, connecting our community to each other, and bringing God closer to our neighbors. Our guests are hungry for great food, first class service without a first-class price tag, and a safe, welcoming environment to heal divides with meaningful conversation.

In today’s fast pace world, with so many distractions and things competing for our attention, eating a meal around a table is something that is not common. We want to provide an opportunity for our community to disconnect from worldly distractions and re-connect with other people and God around a dinner table. Unlike other food ministries like soup kitchens, our focus is on the dinner table experience. Instead of having guests file in a line, we want to serve our guests like they were in a restaurant because they deserve dignified, quality meals. Being seated by a host, ordering at the table from a menu, and receiving unwavering service from a waiter allows guests more opportunity to connect with others at their table throughout the night.

“We want to provide an opportunity for our community to disconnect from worldly distractions and re-connect with other people and God around a dinner table.”

Using social media and physical material we will reach out to our target groups to gain interest and attendance. We will also partner with local organizations such as the Interfaith Shelter to help locate those who may benefit from this service. In our first year we have a goal to have the Café open one day a week for dinner. During these dinners we want to provide a meal that is served restaurant style, have opportunities to connect with our guests, and introduce our community to First Baptist Church.

This mission will not only have a positive impact on our community but will also have a positive impact on our church. This mission opens our front door wider to our friends and neighbors. The mission not only becomes a place to invite others to enjoy a meal, but also to join us in service. Sometimes it is hard to ask someone to attend church with you, but to ask someone to help serve others is a much more comfortable interaction. Café Connection is an opportunity to show others what it means to be a part of First Baptist Church.

I am so excited for Café Connection to finally open and allow First Baptist Church to show our community that we are here to serve them and welcome them into our home.


To learn more about Café Connection, visit CafeConnection.org.

This article appears in the October-November 2021 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.