For nine years Owen Uebergang has been serving up soup and making friends with those he meets at a special Monday evening gathering.
Every Monday evening from February to December, a band of up to 16 helpers serves up a free meal to anyone from their local community of Clovercrest, in the northern suburbs of Adelaide.
Eighty-six-year-old Owen and fellow members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Para Vista have provided this Meet ‘n’ Eat ministry to not only offer a hot meal to needy locals, but also to build friendships.
And that’s exactly what has occurred over almost a decade, since Owen first raised the idea with then parish pastor Noel Kluge.
Some of the congregation’s men had been chatting after worship one Sunday, when Owen commented that there was an evening each week on which the hall wasn’t being used. And so, the idea of a ‘soup night’ was born.
‘We actually started off talking to Pastor Noel Kluge to see what he thought about our idea and he gave us a positive response, but a timely warning that we shouldn’t make it a three-night wonder’, Owen, a retired farmer, recalls.
The congregation members placed a sandwich board on the edge of the road and did a local letterbox drop to drum up interest.
The aptly named Meet ‘n’ Eat began modestly, with a half a dozen people. Then word got around. Now about 60 to 80 people gather most Monday evenings at the church hall for not only soup, but a main meal of meat and vegetables, and the occasional addition of dessert! All for no cost to diners.
And the rationale behind the larger menu offering? It’s so people have more time to stop and chat and get to know each other, Owen says.
Friendships have grown, and people who had started off attending to be fed now help feed the weekly masses. It spurred the ministry’s slogan: ‘Come as a stranger, leave as a friend’.
‘We saw people coming who really needed a meal, but it’s also created lasting friendships’, Owen says.
‘We have some members who have joined our church as a result.’
The meal is a great opportunity to meet and build friendships with folk from the community. ‘We use rectangular tables so people can talk to one another easily’, he adds.
‘We want to focus the evening around people who are doing it tough. We see some people who look like they have nothing at all.’
Each week counsellors are on hand to support local diners who might be needing help.
No bookings are required, and local diners are invited to simply come on the night to enjoy good food from 6.30pm, finishing at about 7.30pm.
The congregation starts preparing for each meal on a Sunday afternoon, using fresh produce donated through the local Baptist Church Pathway Community Centre and local grocery stores and bakeries. Surplus bread and bakery goods are also available to take home.
‘We have a soup and then a meat and vegetable dinner,’ Owen says.
‘We have a menu with quite a choice available, from sausage bake or chicken and a large variety of vegetables including zucchini, pumpkin and potato.’
With 10 to 12 volunteers each week, mostly from the congregation, along with a couple who just come to help, this effort is coordinated from the word ‘go’.
Owen’s wife of 60 years this January, Lenna, is one of those volunteers.
‘You have to use the muscles and the brain that the Lord’s given us’, says Owen.
That even extends to food handling licensing, with council regulations ensuring that all food is cooked on premises under strict hygiene rules.
The congregation undertook major alterations to the hall and kitchen recently to support the ministry. The Meet ‘n’ Eat ministry also uses a big electronic sign erected on the street outside the church to promote the weekly event.
Each meal begins with a short devotion from a retired minister or church council member.
And it sometimes needs a good icebreaker to relax the crowd. That’s where Owen’s love of singing helps.
He recalls one evening early in the life of the ministry, when there were only a few people who had turned up for a meal. ‘There were a couple of old ladies who were looking nervous, and I heard one was from Wales, so I went up and sang the Welsh national anthem. They laughed and laughed and laughed, until the lady said she was not from Wales, she was from Cornwall!’
And there’s another song that Owen recalls fondly when reflecting on the ‘Meet ‘n’ Eat’ ministry – the hymn ‘The Servant King’. It’s a reminder of our call to service, no matter where we may be.
And it is reflected also in the congregational motto: ‘Reaching into the community that all may know Jesus and come to worship him’.
Helen Beringen is a Brisbane-based writer who is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and humbly in our community. By sharing stories of how God shines his light through his people, she hopes others are encouraged to explore how they can use their gifts to share his light in the world.
Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor firstname.lastname@example.org
This feature story comes from The Lutheran August 2019. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.