June 6, 2017

Feeding the Community

On the 2nd day of Ramadan 2017 our senior warden Evelyn and I attended the annual fundraising dinner of the American Muslims for Hunger Relief (AMFHR). We did this at the invitation of Ghani Khan, the Executive Director. The Church of the Advocate and AMFHR have shaped a partnership that fruited in Halal meals being offered monthly at our Advocate Cafe. How wonderful it was that evening of the fundraiser to be immersed in a cultural event outside of the Eurocentric, Christocentric framework, one that propelled me and Evelyn into a sea of colors, textures, tastes, hues and sounds that declared another way of being that nourished and enlightened and spoke to a powerful encounter with the sacred.

What AMFHR does for the Advocate community is less about the Halal meat made available to our patrons. What AMFHR does is remind us that the work before us as Christians is sometimes best done in relationships that cross boundaries to find places of common mission. Our relationship with AMFHR is not predicated upon removal and substitution, we have not substituted any Islamic beliefs or practice for our own, but rather is situated upon a common interest to meet a basic human need; i.e. the need for food. The shock is not in the partnership but in the need.

Five days per week for nearly 40 years the Church of the Advocate, on the strength of partnerships, has fed our community. In 2016 we served over 23,000 meals. Our North Philadelphia neighborhood is in the midst of change that is both embraced and resisted. We are experiencing a form of gentrification with university students, increased religious and spiritual diversity, and an erosion of African American cultural history. In the center of this is a growing food insecurity that in a weird way might have the potential to unify us across our human imposed boundaries of difference. Food insecurity is a harsh reality that impacts our community broadly. Hunger and food insecurity exists among long term North Philadelphia residents just as it does among college students and is within our growing community of Muslim neighbors. This is a community of communities located within walking distance of the Advocate Cafe.. We will need to cross boundaries to establish community. That’s what AMFHR reminds us.

After so many years the usefulness of the Cafe remains secure. This is as unfortunate as it is true; such security can only be antithetical to our mission to work with Christ for the liberation of people. If our work is not yet completed what is the tomorrow we would like to help shape? How can we create a place that becomes a point of contact across difference? What will it take for us to create a Cafe that is setting a path for community and individual healing and wholeness? How creative are we willing to be? Can we listen intently enough? Are we willing to see differently?

Our community is in the midst of change and the Church of the Advocate and the Advocate Cafe are at pivot points. This is more than a mission to meet needs; it’s a mission to usher change.