We are excited about our new, local storytelling strategy - Spirit Stories.
Here is our fifth story of how and where the Holy Spirit is moving and dancing in our synod. Hopefully these stories will inspire you in your setting - to wonder, to imagine, to experiment ... AND we would like to hear YOUR stories of what God is up to in your neck of the woods. We will be sharing these via email, social media, and post them on our synod website at www.lutheransnw.org/spirit-stories .
By the Rev. Karena Reitan, Gift of Grace, Seattle

Ray first came to GraceFeast just because he heard there was free food at Gift of Grace Lutheran Church every Sunday. He was sleeping outside in a nearby park at the time and came every other week or so. Three years later, he is the head chef and one of the most committed leaders of the ministry, cooking flavorful dishes from an adventurous variety of culinary traditions, while building and nurturing community in the process. Community building is the deepest goal of GraceFeast. The weekly guests come from a variety of social and financial circumstances. They sit together at well laid tables and share Sunday dinner family style. This is a direct expression of Gift of Grace congregation’s mission: “to invest our whole selves in lifting up Christ for our neighbors, inviting them more deeply into the life of God.”

The congregation’s affluent neighborhood is generally suspicious of Christian religious expression, but supportive of providing social services. The steadfastness of this weekly GraceFeast (for more than 10 years) is a sign of hope even to the housed neighbors who do not regularly participate. For the unhoused neighbors, this Christ-centered hospitality offers a palpable hope that Chef Ray understands well. “Most of them have given up,” he says. “I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to feel that way. And I know what a difference one spark [of friendship] can make in someone’s day.” That’s why Ray gets up at four or five most Sunday mornings to make the food extraordinary. He draws from a vast library of recipes, starting with his Hungarian mother’s Gulyás and Spaetzle and branching out to Korean black bean noodles, Creole jambalaya, linguine with clam sauce, and so much more. {Is your mouth watering yet? If you are reading this, you are invited to share in the feast! The upcoming Sunday’s menu is on our website, along with our address: giftofgrace.org }

Fresh produce from the prolific Gift of Grace urban farm is often featured on the menu. Ray has also been preserving the farm’s home-grown tomatoes and squash for use in the months to come, connecting GraceFeast even more profoundly to the ethical growing, sharing, and use of local food. In order to deepen the community building feature of GraceFeast, Ray plans and hosts food preparation work parties in the church kitchen, where he guides participants in chopping vegetables and other practical tasks. As the GraceFeast guests prepare food together, the Holy Spirit blesses their mutual ministry for the sake of the wider community who will share in the meal.
Ultimately, God’s plan for GraceFeast is bigger than even Chef Ray’s most idealistic intentions. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize what God is doing with our humble gifts. As a Gift of Grace congregation member and weekly GraceFeast guest, I usually take it for granted and often feel awkward sharing Sunday dinner with some of the people whose life circumstances are much different from my own. Thanks be to God that God’s work is way more powerful than my inadequate understanding. Ray caught a glimpse of this work on the day when the man who had once stolen his entire backpack with all of his possessions in it showed up at GraceFeast. Ray’s hands were shaking as he carried the serving tray to the table. It was a situation he wanted to avoid at all costs. Looking back now, Ray says, “it was one of the strongest moments of my life when this thief showed up and I served him a good home-cooked meal.” Now that’s a Gift of Grace – for the thief and the chef!

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)