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.