Church mixes food with spiritual growth

Published 3:15 pm Wednesday, July 6, 2011

From left, Rosemary Wright, Dell Bond, Rev. Stephen Strange, Clay Valentine, and Joe Lay grill out behind the Lakeview Church during the church's Soul Food Cafe on July 6. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Stephen Strange, pastor of Lakeview, Pelham’s First United Methodist Church, knows the key to southerners’ hearts. He also knows effective ways to help them grow in their spiritual lives.

Every Wednesday, Tuesday and Friday night, groups at the church can be found congregating around dinner tables, grilling hamburgers and hotdogs and crafting soul-filled Southern cuisines.

While the participants may not all have the same tastes in food, they all share one common spiritual belief.

On Wednesday nights, local families flock to the church off Shelby County 11 to enjoy what the congregation has dubbed its “Soul Food Café.” Beginning shortly after work hours, a team of volunteers gathers in the church’s kitchen to begin preparing everything from chicken to beef patties with mushroom gravy.

“The Soul Food Café actually began under our old pastor Ron Schultz when the church was still over on 31,” Strange said. “Like so many other churches, our church was starting to die out then.

“We had a few Wednesday night activities, but never food,” Strange said.

Soon after the church began offering food, it grew from a single Wednesday night Bible study to “five or six” different classes, Strange said.

But the church’s culinary offerings aren’t limited to the Lakeview cafeteria.

Every Tuesday night, the church’s 65-and-older ladies group travels to a different local restaurant to share fellowship with each other.

The last day of every work week brings the church’s Fellowship Fridays.

“We figured that most people go out to eat on Fridays, so we decided to start having fellowship events that day,” Strange said. “It’s usually a group of about 10 people who meet together and go out to eat somewhere.”

Fellowship Fridays cover venues from Pelham’s Applebee’s to Columbiana’s Bernie’s on Main, and the group congregates at 6:30 p.m. each week.

For more information about the church’s food-based ministries, visit