By: Holly Sortland
This story and photos were original published by Pastor Holly Sortland, pastor of South Maple UMC in Rapid City, Dakotas Conference of The UMC. It is shared here with permission.
"One of my favorite things about Jesus is that he loved to eat." —Pastor Holly Sortland
The gospels tell us that miracles happen when people gather around food. Jesus' first miracle occurred at wedding banquet, he multiplied loaves and fish to feed thousands, and his disciples recognized him when he broke bread with them.
"I think Jesus wants us know that sharing a meal with one another breaks down barriers," said Pastor Holly Sortland. That idea inspired her to start "Waffle Church," a faith gathering that has occurs every other Saturday at South Maple UMC. Sortland was inspired after she read about a church in Brooklyn, New York that started a Waffle Church.
"What I love about it is that families stay together, they talk with their neighbors, they eat, and they learn about the love of God," Sortland said.
What happens at Waffle Church? "A lot of chaos," said Sortland. "Kids are running and playing, we have toys and play mats set up right next to the tables, and of course, people are helping themselves to the waffle bar."
But a lot more happens. Those gathered share music, a short lesson about the love of Jesus is read, and each gathering ends with goldfish crackers and grape juice. Children are invited to serve the crackers and juice to their family members and others.
"It's time at God's table," said Sortland. "As the children gather around, we are reminded that this is GOD's table and nothing can keep them from receiving God's love. That's where the magic of the Holy Spirit happens. It is incredibly touching to watch a mother tear-up when her child serves her."
The ministry is turning into a gathering where everyone serves together. Families help prepare food and everyone helps with the clean-up.
"We had a couple who started coming after they saw our sign. They've been coming ever since, and last weekend he brought his guitar and led music for us." Sortland said.
She is also encouraged by the number of Native American families who have been taking part in the gatherings. Sortland said, "We have a lot that we can share and learn from our Native American brothers and sisters, and I think we are called by God to grow a ministry that reflects the diversity of God's people."
In 2017, nine children from Waffle Church got to go to summer camp at Storm Mountain Center for the first time in their lives, thanks to a waffle fundraiser that the children put together combined with generous camp scholarships from Dakotas United Methodist Camps.
Eight children were baptized in Waffle Church in 2017. One of the children from Waffle Church who was baptized last fall is in need of a double lung and heart transplant. His name is Matthew Richards, and he is 9 years old. Due to some of the attention he has gotten from Waffle church, the church has been able to establish a Go Fund Me account for his medical expenses, and a local Boy Scout troop has volunteered to do a pancake fundraiser for him in March.Sortland says that her prayer is that Waffle Church will continue to meet those on the fringes who are not comfortable attending regular church services. "The wonderful thing about waffles is that you can eat them anywhere," said Sortland. "Church can happen anywhere. God's table is everywhere."
Learn more about Waffle Church on its Facebook page.
Watch a video showcasing Waffle Church when it was located at Canyon Lake UMC earlier this year.
You can email Holly Sortland (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in learning about starting a Waffle Church ministry at your church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church