He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.' John 21:17 (NRSV)
We all know the passage from the Gospel of John where Jesus visits with his disciples after the Resurrection on the beach in Galilee and fries some fish. A tasty breakfast.
It is no surprise then, after such a tasty meal and the years of feeding his followers, that Jesus then tells Simon Peter to "feed my sheep." We can all feel a little frustrated with the way in which Jesus tells him, by asking him if Simon Peter loves him three times, but there is a certain symmetry of this passage with poor Simon Peter's refusal to acknowledge Jesus after he is arrested.
Feeding God's Sheep at St. John's Church
At St. John's Episcopal Church in Franklin (named after St. John the Evangelist, from whose book this story comes), we take this directive to feed Jesus' sheep pretty seriously. St. John's hosts three different feeding ministries--a Blessing Box, the Second Harvest BackPack Program, and the Shepherd's Green Community Food Pantry.
In mid-March when Bishop Sean Rowe of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania closed the Episcopal churches in the diocese due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we had many questions about how we were going to move forward with our feeding ministries. However, we knew that those feeding ministries were going to be so very important for the Franklin community in the coming days. We were right!
Adapting to Social Distancing and Increased Need
Our first order of business was to figure out how to safely allow our feeding ministries to continue. Our first BackPack Program bag packing session was scheduled for the first Sunday of the closure! Immediately, we cut back on the number of volunteers we could have on-site and tried to streamline the process.
Normally, the Shepherd's Green is client choice oriented. Every fourth Saturday of the month, our clients come to St. John's, go through our registration process and then proceed downstairs to a room laid out with food options. They are allowed to take a certain quantity or given options for different items, but they don't have to take any item. We feel this allows for some responsibility and dignity for our clients. However, usually on a Shepherd's Green Saturday we have thirty some volunteers and around one hundred twenty-five clients in the building in the space of three hours. Not a system which would work with the new social distancing policies! So we took our food outside. We had small groups of volunteers pack boxes the week before the scheduled distribution and asked our clients to call in for a pick up time. When Saturday came, we set up tents near the sidewalk and offered our portion of God's banquet.
As we prepare for our next Shepherd's Green distribution, we know how much this ministry means to our Franklin community at this time. Not only has the Blessing Box been doing lots of business (and the Free Little Library as well), more people are calling for pick up times and joining our client base. While it is sad that more and more people are having troubles, we are glad we can share God's abundance and continue to feed Jesus' sheep.
The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is the priest at St. John's Episcopal Church in Franklin, PA and a member of the Project on Rural Ministry's Agricultural Cohort. She is a triathlete and allergy friendly baker. She is looking forward to getting married in September of 2020.