By Bruce Pettit
Conference Communications Commission
Calvary United Methodist Church in San Francisco, which just a few years ago had six to 10 people in worship on a typical Sunday, now regularly sees 100 in attendance - and on November 16, 2008, counted more than 200: both increases attributable to the church's emphasis on poverty ministries, according to its pastor.
Many who attended the November 16 service, in fact, were attracted by the church's second annual Pre-Thanksgiving Meal, held that day, which the pastor went to great lengths to publicize.
At midnight on Saturday the Rev. Anthony Jenkins, Calvary pastor since July 2006, took flyers announcing the meal to homeless people in Golden Gate Park, and returned there early Sunday morning to hand out more flyers after just a few hours' sleep. Many of the homeless were among the 500 people who showed up for the feast. A number of the poor—and primarily Asian—residents of the Sunset neighborhood of the church also took part, Jenkins said. The Sunday worship service occurred during the hours that the meal was being served (from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) and many of the diners stepped inside the sanctuary, to swell the service to more than 200 people.
The handful of regular attendees from years past looked at the throng and had joyful tears running down their faces, Jenkins said.
Jenkins solicited most of the funding for the meal from outside Calvary, but the food preparation, he said, primarily was by members of his personal extended family. A year ago, when the Pre-Thanksgiving Meal was launched, he guessed that he could get as many as 500 people, and told his family to prepare for as many as 700. Calvary served 524 Pre-Thanksgiving meals in 2007.
Both years the church contracted with Boston Market for delivery of turkeys, and the restaurant was on standby to deliver more if needed, as Jenkins took estimates of the arriving crowd.
Black Brothers Esteem—national advocates for HIV prevention and cure, founded and headquartered in San Francisco—this year secured two solo vocalists for the worship service as a tribute to Jenkins' continuing outreach.
The feast is not the only hunger ministry the church provides. In his first year at the church, Jenkins (shown seated, smiling at camera, in front of man wearing clerical collar in photo at left) initiated a Sunday breakfast program for the homeless, funded through donations, which has fed thousands. And since July, 2008, also at Jenkins' initiation, Calvary has served as an official distribution site for the San Francisco Food Bank, handing out bags of free groceries every Friday. (On November 14, the grocery bags contained the ingredients for turkey dinners with all the trimmings.) The Calvary distribution site serves some 200 families on a weekly basis; thousands of families have been served since the program's inception.
The church also has a program it calls "Keeping Warm," in which it distributes new sleeping bags to homeless people during the fall and winter months.
Jenkins says Calvary's emphasis on poverty ministries has revived the church.
"It has magnetized people to the spiritual environment," says Jenkins. The transformation is "ignited with their physical food" and becomes ablaze with their spiritual food, he says.
Many of the homeless people benefiting from the church's programs have stayed on to become a part of the church's diverse congregation, which boasts nine different Ethnic groups, Jenkins says. "They're inviting their friends. They say, 'hey, stay for the service; the service is really good,'" Jenkins reports.
"Our church has just really transformed."
Jenkins, on track for ordination, is a seminary student at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.
(Cate Monaghan, Interim Communications Director for the California-Nevada Annual Conference, contributed to this report.)