Editor’s note: Every Christmas, many ELCA congregations share the spirit of the holiday by hosting and serving community Christmas dinners. The stories below were submitted by congregations that have long-standing traditions of serving their neighbors and building community through an annual Christmas dinner.
Twelve years ago, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Kevin Herman, a member of St. Matthew, approached Kevin Shively, a pastor of St. Matthew, with a dream. Herman and his family had helped a neighboring congregation with its community Thanksgiving dinner; feeling inspired by this experience, he asked if St. Matthew might host a dinner for the community on Christmas.
Herman’s dream included a free dinner for anyone who came, toys for children, and clothing and coats for all ages. He gathered a team of volunteers to cook, serve and clean up, and he started reaching out for donations of food, toys, clothing and monetary gifts to cover costs. It was decided that the dinner would be served at the tables as though one were at a restaurant; guests wouldn’t need to pass through a buffet line. It was also decided that anyone could come and enjoy the dinner—no questions asked.
God worked through this dream, and about 250 meals were served that first Christmas dinner. Last year, nearly 1,300 free meals were shared with folks from the greater York community. Nearby churches and businesses offer additional kitchen space. Meals are served at the church and taken to local fire, police and ambulance stations for those who must work on Christmas.
With more than 100 volunteers from the congregation and the community, and donations from individuals, families and various community organizations, this ministry continues to bring the love and joy of Christmas to hundreds each year. Many volunteers now make this their Christmas tradition, and the event continues to grow. Local media often report live from the church to publicize this ministry.
And it all came together because one man had a dream to share the love, joy, peace and promise of Christmas with others!
Detroit Lakes, Minn.
We started “Christmas at our House” in the late 1990s. Our goal was to create a place on Christmas Day where community members could gather for a warm meal and fellowship. We also wanted to have meals available to deliver to those who couldn’t leave their homes or who were working that day.
We serve baked ham, dressing, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, pickles, buns and lefse. For dessert, we have either pumpkin or apple pie.
The dinner has been a great opportunity for everyone and a wonderful time to serve one another. We generally have 70 to 100 volunteers who help with the preparation, cooking, serving, delivering of the to-go meals, and cleanup. Families have grown up serving together on Christmas, and every year we have volunteers from other churches come to join in the serving.
Usually we deliver meals to around 150 people. Some meals are delivered to people living alone, some are enjoyed in groups—especially at the assisted-living centers—and others eat theirs on the run at work so the rest of us can have a day of leisure. We serve about 200 more meals at church. Some people will eat and then head home, but a lot will stay and socialize for an hour or more. Our volunteers also take turns enjoying the meal and socializing.
“Christmas at our House” has been a chance for us to serve our neighbors and community in a celebration of Christmas. We prayerfully hope this example will help to open doors in the lives of others for the Spirit to take root and grow in the years to come.
Grand Island, Neb.
A church family that had recently lost an adult daughter to cancer, wishing to pay tribute to her, desired to share a Christmas dinner with anyone who might find themselves in need during the Christmas season.
So, work began in our church kitchen to prepare a meal of turkey, ham and all the fixings for Christmas Day. Not knowing how many people might attend, we planned for 50. However, with very little advertising, only about 24 people were served during our first Christmas dinner.
Today our Christmas dinner serves more than 1,000 people. Having outgrown our facility’s capacity to roast turkeys and ham, we now partner with the Grand Generation Center (a local senior center), where 800 pounds of turkeys are roasted and then carved on Dec. 23 to be delivered to the church on Christmas.
On Christmas, our kitchen volunteers prepare plates of turkey, ham, sweet and mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, dressing, cranberry sauce, and wheat or white rolls for all our guests and visitors. For dessert, church members bake well over 100 pies, cakes and batches of cookies of all varieties—even gluten-free.
The food that isn’t served at church is then prepared in containers and delivered to Meals on Wheels participants, fire and rescue personnel, and people at Hope Harbor—a home for women and families in crisis.
During the dinner, members of the choir sing carols, and Santa and his helpers meet, greet and present gifts to children of all ages.
Our community Christmas dinner is a ministry our congregation looks forward to every year. The dinner requires more than 300 volunteers, many of whom are nonmembers wishing for a place to serve.
The Christmas dinner is a long-standing tradition that we hope will continue for many years to come. It gives so many the opportunity to serve others, and it gives families a special place to be on Christmas.
So much of Christ’s ministry to others was time spent around a meal. We try to follow that by serving others, spreading the good news of the gospel and, in some small way, making a positive difference in others’ lives. Our community Christmas dinner is one way to do that.