At the beginning of 2018, I sensed God wanted to do something in Cle Elum CC and me that was different.
I didn’t understand what God was saying so I continued to pray. In March I traveled to Reston, VA to attend the Fresh Expressions US Conference at the invitation of Dr. Charles Revis, executive minister for Mission Northwest. While there Charles introduced our group to Verlon Fosner the founder of the Dinner Church movement based in Seattle, WA. I was excited to see what God was doing in Seattle. On May 7, one of our elders and I joined seven other Mission Northwest pastors at a Dinner Church weekly gathering at Pike’s Place Senior Center in downtown Seattle. We met with Verlon before and after the event for questions and answers. I became convinced that God was leading us in this direction. I continued to pray.
God started opening doors. Several of our elders went to a Dinner Church training but because of a computer error, they missed the first day of training. Through God’s providence, Verlon was led to come to our church and teach 18 of us the full Dinner Church Concept over two sessions. We started to dream. In early 2019 the CECC Elders decided after a season of prayer and fasting that we would start a Dinner Church in Cle Elum. God was not done; He was only beginning.
God raised up a core of volunteers from one of our small groups to spearhead this project. God also raised up Pastor Will to lead “Mannafest Dinner Church”, the name of our new ministry. In Luke 10 Jesus talks about finding a “person of peace” in the community as he commissions his disciples to go and share the good news of the Kingdom of God. In an unexpected manner, God brought a person of peace across Will’s path who begins the advocacy process with the Cle Elum Eagles Club. Despite the initial resistance the Eagles club agreed to rent us their upper room space. This space can comfortably hold 50 to 55 people. We were excited.
In June of 2019 Pastor Will led three weeks of training for 23-25 volunteers from CECC, the Eagles Club and other churches in the community. In the midst of all this, there were doubters looking for the catch as to why followers of Jesus would offer a free meal. There were skeptics in the church too. The church doubters questioned why we do a Fresh Expressions ministry that would not directly bring people into the church. Our response was that Dinner Church is a multiple expression of worship designed for people who are far from God who have no understanding of traditional church. We want to reach people with the Jesus story who are far from God, maybe been hurt by churches in the past, or feel lost, broken or unworthy of anyone loving them.We want to reach people with the Jesus story who are far from God, maybe been hurt by churches in the past, or feel lost, broken or unworthy of anyone loving them. Click To Tweet
On July 16th the first Mannafest meal occurred with 30 people. The weekly gatherings have been a success. They start at 6:00 pm with dinner and conversation around the tables. After about 40 minutes Pastor Will tells a Jesus Story of 12 to 15 minutes in a participatory style. Just a few weeks in and one participant shared her story about losing a child to SIDS during the message time. Another week a participant shared about her suicidal thoughts and recent hospitalization. One week an Amber alert sounded across a multitude of cell phones and someone shouted let’s pray for this alert and the group stopped what they were doing and prayed.
Another participant asked if she could be a volunteer and is invited to help with meal preparation. The next week she shows up in her Sunday-best clothes to help cook and serve the meal. On another occasion, an Eagles Club member who has never attended dinner church donates a $100 cash on the spot.
Another Mannafest volunteer learns about a participant who recently lost their housing. Another volunteer lends this person their RV trailer while another arranges to have them park it on their property that has water and sewer hook-ups.
Yet, another Mannafest volunteer also volunteers at the county jail as a chaplain. He notices several former inmates attending and staying for the Jesus Story. Another touching story occurred when the group sang Happy Birthday to a participant who thanks everyone while telling the gathering this is the first time in 50 years anyone has cared enough to sing to him and provide a Birthday cupcake.
The resistance at the Eagles Club has lessened. The Eagles bartender after weeks of being offered a free dinner accepts. Next, the Eagles Club opens up their kitchen for our use. Recently, their cook has started coming in on their day off to help the volunteers prepare the meals. Recently the Eagles Club board president who was resistant to Mannafest and skeptical about us using their space came upstairs, saw the crowd and said to Pastor Will I think I will have to allow you to use the bigger dance floor area. He is now speaking positively about Dinner Church.
At the December 17th Mannafest gathering a wonderful event occurred. Pastor Will and Stephanie had just given birth to Pearle Rose a couple of weeks before. They were planning on offering a prayer of dedication over Pearle at Dinner Church. When he mentioned this to a lady who had been resistant to Dinner church at the Eagles she opened up about her grandchild. She expressed that she wished her daughter would bring her granddaughter to be prayed for as well. Pastor Will immediately encouraged her to bring her daughter and granddaughter to be dedicated as well. The lady talked with her daughter. Her daughter and husband brought Ella Rose to Mannafest and Pastor Will prayed a prayer of blessing over Ella Rose. The parents noted that they don’t attend church due to the harmful experiences they have had in other churches. They enjoyed Dinner Church and desire to come back.
Most recently, the Eagles Club has asked Pastor Will to be their chaplain. He prays at their board meetings; visits their shut-ins and has talked with terminally ill people and their families offering the comfort from the God of all comfort. This door opened because of Dinner Church.
Since the first Mannafest dinner church meal we have been averaging 46 per week. Since the first week in November, we have been averaging 65. The weekly cost to Dinner Church is roughly $2.50 per meal at 75 meals, $187.50 plus $50 a week in rent. We also pay Pastor Will a monthly stipend. The costs have been covered by pledges from a core group of people who committed for six months to give an amount above what they give to their local church. We also have an offering jar available at Dinner Church for those who which to give. We absolutely do not collect an offering. God continues to bless us and sustain the work.
God has blessed our church in Cle Elum with this multiple expression of worship that is connecting people to Jesus. We rejoice in this new journey that God is leading us on.