Kits Cares Cafe
By Jonathan Bird
Since 2011, CityGate Leadership Forum has coordinated the Planted Community Food Network to help seed a cultural shift in Greater Vancouver away from haphazard food charity, toward a sustainable local food system – opening access to affordable nutrition by building on the strengths of the vulnerable and fostering relationships between neighbours. In Kitsilano recently, four congregations – Lord’s Grace Church, Redemption Church, Tenth Church Kitsilano, and This City Life – launched a weekly café-style free community meal.
At least three factors set the Kits Cares Café apart. First, rather than each congregation taking a turn in hosting the meal, these four are deliberately mixing their volunteer teams together.
When Dan Matheson, pastor of Tenth Church’s Kitsilano campus, determined his parishioners were ready to step in, he invited all the pastors ministering in the neighbourhood, including the mainline and Roman Catholic ones, to bring their people into the effort, and together they asked Planted to coordinate the logistics.
While the pastors are eager for their churches to get involved in their neighbourhoods and to express God’s heart for the poor by meeting acute need for nutrition, they’ve repeatedly affirmed to each other that what excites them most is the opportunity for their people to work alongside each other in an enduring way.
Jointly offering a meal to the least of our neighbours affords us the joy of experiencing Christ in them and in each other. Our churches are in many ways just as divided as our broader society. But then so were the Apostles when Jesus prayed during his Last Supper that they would “become completely one” as he and his Father are one. Unity in diversity brings unique benefits for spiritual formation and articulates to our tribalized world perhaps the most persuasive testimony to the redemptive, reconciling power of God’s love. In addition to the four congregations who have committed to the Café already, several more hope to do so in the coming year.
Christ Church Cathedral has contributed staff time and cash toward training the new volunteers, since their Maundy Café was awarded a social innovation grant by the Vancouver Foundation to share their model (developed with help from Planted) as broadly as possible among churches in the Lower Mainland.
That café model makes the Kits Cares Café uncommon. Loneliness afflicts many Vancouverites, hitting low-income people and young adults hardest. Feelings of loneliness can be worsened by the typical dynamics of soup kitchens and community meals, with line-ups and sharp distinctions between those helping and those being helped. The café encourages leisurely dining wherein the roles of guest and host are blurred as we eat together. Eating together leads to cooking and cleaning together.
With Kits Cares freshly launched, there is hope that three more collaboratively-run cafés will start in 2019 (if you’re interested, shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Kits Cares Café is not being hosted at a church but rather at the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House. As one of ten associated neighbourhood houses in Metro Vancouver, Kits House belongs to an international movement of settlement houses that has Christian roots in Victorian England.
Neighbourhood houses dropped their religious reference point long ago, but the gospel produces very strong muscle memory if enacted with integrity among the poor.
Where some might see irony, there is providence in the fact that the Kits House occupies a converted Greek Orthodox building. One of the livelier debates in sociology is whether we are entering a post-secular era, where religions thrive rather than die amidst urbanizing, globalizing trends.
How might Jesus show up now at the corner of 7th and Vine? If together we emulate our Saviour’s posture of humble service and homely friendship in a decommissioned sanctuary, what new thing will he do in our scattered churches?