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Local congregation finds new life as a dinner church.

New Hope United Methodist Church in Brandon took on a weekly meal for the homeless in a run-down church building and transformed it in to a community Dinner Church, reaching out to families who might otherwise never cross a sanctuary threshold.

This Fresh Expression of church—New Hope Café—project began after New Hope incorporated Grace United Methodist Church into its fold about a year and a half ago. They began to expand the homeless meal, with volunteers providing the meals and the weekly Jesus stories.

Initially, New Hope committed to continuing the homeless dinner for six months, Pastor Vicki Harrison said.

“It is in a very distressed neighborhood in East Tampa. One thing that church had done, though it was very much a dying church, is started the Monday night homeless dinner. They asked us please not to stop it,” she said.

“We went through a period of discernment and felt very strongly this meal was supposed to remain but needed a much stronger spiritual component. It was just mainly a feeding. People would come in any time during the hour. There wasn’t any relationship building going on.”

That has changed as word has gotten around.

The dinner still attracts homeless individuals and families from the neighborhood, but now visitors are encouraged to stay after dessert for a story about Jesus. Some leave, some stay—but the message about the Savior’s grace is constant.

On one recent Monday, attendees heard the story about how Jesus healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.

“I read through the passage, and we talked a little bit about the meaning: what that woman’s life must have been like, her loneliness, her exclusions, her sense of desperation, how it relates to our lives. Jesus called her ‘daughter.’ She’s part of his family. I tried to use that to show when we say yes to Jesus, we are part of God’s family and no longer excluded,” Harrison said.

Coordinator Melissa Kordewich said signs have gone up around the neighborhood and on the church to get the word out.

“We are working with the local elementary school that is next door. Some of the teachers volunteer at the dinner, and the principal came one night and visited with the children,” she said.

“When school starts up again, we plan to put an invitation to the Dinner Church in with the school email announcements. We put out flags when we are open.”

The ministry is starting to grow, usually attracting 30 to 35 people.

“We have definitely made a connection with the Jesus stories,” Harrison said. “When you gradually see growth, we have people now who are asking for prayer that never did before. Some are really listening and asking questions, and that’s really exciting.”

“I think all of our guests feel accepted and loved, and I think that is the first step to knowing Jesus' unconditional love and accepting Him as our savior.”

Yvette Hammett, freelance editor based in Valrico.

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are Engaging in ministry with the poor with their communities in ways that are transformative.

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