Fellowship over food a tradition uniting Beach churches

Beach United Church volunteer Marcha Armstrong, right, dishes out Lebanese food during the church's Interfaith drop-in lunch Feb. 5. Anna Killen

“651! 651! Who has number 651?”

The 40 or so patrons at Beach United Church for its weekly turn hosting the Beach Interfaith Lunch shuffle in their seats, turning their tickets over in their hands to see if this week is their week to win the standard prize: a Tim Hortons gift card.

A man near the middle of the room breaks into a smile, waves his ticket in the air.

Someone can be heard remarking, “Oh, it’s nice when someone who hasn’t won before wins.”

Held at a different place of worship along Queen Street East and Kingston Road on weekdays between October and May, the Interfaith lunch program has for 18 years provided a drop-in lunch for those with low incomes, the homeless, or anyone who is just hungry for food or good company.

It’s an opportunity for fellowship, the mingling of faiths, and simple conversation over a home-cooked meal.

“There’s a myriad of conversations taking place out there. Some are deeply theological, some are more general, but that’s what’s so cool about it,” said Beach United Church minister Karen Dale.

“When you sit down at a table you never know what you’re going to get into because people have questions, stories to share. I learn so much from the people here.”

Volunteers prepare the meals and a dessert cart – there is typically a soup, a stew or casserole, salads, sandwiches and a variety of treats, yogurt, fruit and bread – for the 70 to 80 people who show up most days. If there is any food left over, it’s packed up and offered as takeaway.

On the Thursday Beach Metro News visited, the smell of warm spices filled the room – Lebanese food, prepared by the church’s monthly Cooking with Soul group.

That group meets one Saturday a month to learn how to prepare locally-sourced foods, though the recipes are often from different cultures. The food the group prepares is always used for the Interfaith lunch.

Long-time volunteer Marcha Armstrong serves up garlicky potatoes, and says the spinach and meatball soup, called Shawrbet sbenikh bi lahmeh, is one of the best soups she’s tasted, while pressing the recipe into a guest’s hand.

Dale said that while there are new people every time, it’s often the same faces showing up for the meal.

“They know each other, we get to know them, which is always a delight,” said Dale.

“Is it very sad that we have to do this? Yes, it is,” she said.

“Would it be great if people could have the capacity to make their own food and do their things, and this could just be a fellowship time? That would be cool. The reason why many people come in is unfortunate.”

The interfaith lunch program takes place at different places of worship throughout the week, including St. Aiden’s Anglican Church, St. Nicholas Anglican Church, Beaches Hebrew Institute, Beach United Church, Kingston Road United Church, and, once the renovations are finished, Corpus Christi Catholic Church.

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