By CHRIS SCHUTZ
Tulsa-Boston Avenue is nearing the first anniversary of the church’s COMPassion meal program, which provides meals for people who are homeless and differently abled — as well as chances to worship and to become acquainted with the downtown church’s members and staff.
The "COMP" part of the name stands for Community Outreach Ministry Partnership, said Associate Pastor Paul Staat.
The church had noticed a "big influx of people coming off the streets needing food and shelter help, but also spiritual help," Rev. Staat said.
Some people have mental health issues, so the church partnered with A Way Home for Tulsa, which works to find jobs, housing, transportation, and medication for them, Staat said. Boston Avenue UMC decided it might be able to offer spiritual direction to them.
The church sought "how we might best help the situation downtown without being redundant in what we do," Staat said.
On March 24, 2014, the church held the first COMPassion dinner.
Volunteers and guests dine together and visit during this family-style evening meal. A short worship service and Communion also are part of the event.
As they visit, "we learn from our guests what it’s like living in the situation that they do. Faith is all that has kept them going," Staat said.
Gradually, some guests have become volunteers, and some have joined the church, he said.
Boston Avenue’s membership is about 7,800. Among COMPassion guests, the church has counted 12 baptisms, 10 professions of faith, and two members transferred from another denomination.
The meal is cooked and served by volunteers, who also provide transportation for the guests.
Staat said Boston Avenue wants the guests to "feel like there’s some love being put into that food."
A typical dinner is "not something industrial," Staat said. Meals might include beef stew and biscuits, ambrosia, fried chicken, egg rolls and fried rice.
Small gifts called "table agape" are set out for each guest. Prepared by church youth, these have included a small bag of treats with a Bible verse and a whistle with which to "make a joyful noise." Loaves of surplus bread donated by Panera are wrapped by volunteers for guests to take with them.
The church wants to make the dinners a welcoming experience for people who may dress, look, or act differently. The combination of meal and worship has been "an entry point to the whole life of the church," Staat said.
The COMPassion dinner is held every other week. Getting funding for the food has remained a challenge, Staat said.
"We’re learning as we go along," he said. "The guests and our congregation are really getting something spiritual out of this."
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