In response to a pious statement, “Blessed is anyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of Heaven”, Jesus tells a parable. This is the story of a king who is throwing a dinner party and he decides to invite his friends to join him for the celebrations. But, one by one, each of those people who were asked to the dinner turn down the invitation for what they consider to be very valid reasons. On hearing their excuses the king is ‘hopping mad’, and he orders one of his servant to go out into the lanes and back alleys and invite those folk who are never invited to a party. By doing so, the most needy of society become honoured guests and receive a taste of God’s New World.
That parable told by Jesus has been the inspiration for us to run what we call ‘Street Banquet’. This regular event of food and fellowship began about seven years ago in the redundant graveyard on Park Road (behind the Birmingham Polish Centre), before moving indoors, first of all at the Methodist Central Mission, and then for the past two years we have been meeting at The Church at Carrs Lane.
A week before each Street Banquet invitations go out to members of the city’s Street Community. Over the years these invitations have been distributed through outreach teams, the Help Desk at St Martins’, and now by the staff of Sifa Fireside. We have a team of volunteers who act as chefs, waiters and befrienders, and they have been drawn from a variety of churches and students from the Queen’s Foundation.
In our attempt to be faithful to the message of Jesus’ parable, those who attend the Street Banquet are treated as honoured guests, and the number of those honoured guests has been increasing at an alarming rate during recent months. Thirty invitations are sent out with the understanding that people can bring companions with them, which has meant that we cater for anything up to one hundred people. By the grace of God and the culinary skill of our kitchen team, everyone who comes is welcomed and fed.
Need is growing in our society. Food has become a political issue. The gulf between the users of Food Banks and customers of High Street Banks is widening. We are called by Jesus to offer a different way of living by welcoming those in need and sharing a taste of the New World.
For more information, contact Revd Dr Neil Johnson