Scrappy Ministry: The Story of San Joaquin Food Ministries
God has shown his people time and again his capacity to make something out of nothing, to bring connection where there has been separation, to turn scarcity into abundance. The feeding of the 5,000 is the most obvious example, but for the people of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, this story resonates more deeply these days.
For many years, the diocese, which is located in California’s Central Valley, had been disconnected from the initiatives of the larger Episcopal Church for reasons beyond many of its members’ control. Within the last year, however, congregations have been brought together through the work of food ministry.
[See resources, photos, liturgies, and more from Called to Be, the Revival in the Diocese of San Joaquin, here.]
After fielding a number of questions from multiple parishes on the topic food or feeding-related ministries, Canon Anna Carmichael, one of the few members of the diocesan staff, recognized an opportunity for renewed connection within the diocese.
"Wouldn't it be really cool,” Canon Carmichael said, “if there were a way that we can bring all of these questions and processes and structures that people are working within to the same table, and let them share their own wisdom?"
San Joaquin is now home to what is referred to as the Food Ministries collaborative in which six separate ministries, each responding to their unique communities, come together at least twice a year to simply be a resource to each other.
The congregations involved in the collaborative include St. Michael’s in Ridgecrest, St. Paul’s in Bakersfield, St. Andrew’s in Taft, Church of the Saviour in Hanford, St. John’s in Stockton, and St. James Cathedral in Fresno. The ministries have been operating from 31 years of existence in Hanford to most other ministries starting within the last year, and the services range from food pantries and sack lunches to hot meals and bike repairs.
"We're not talking about congregations that have hundreds of people,” Canon Carmichael said. “We're talking about congregations that have 25 and 30, and in the case of Taft, five."
For Tracy Cappel-Rice, the food ministry coordinator at St. James Cathedral, the collective has been vital for sharing knowledge and resources, especially with budgeting and funding. Through the collective, the ministries have been able to receive grants from the United Thank Offering and a Jubilee Ministry designation. She also noted that the wider Episcopal Church has been beneficial to the growth of their ministry because people are more than willing to help answer questions.
"Knowing that there's something bigger than we are is very comforting,” Cappel-Rice said. “We can actually go on the Episcopal Asset Map and find a food bank that is almost identical to our population that we're serving and talk to someone specific."
[Visit the Episcopal Asset Map today and tell us about your ministries, connect with other Episcopalians, and learn about the ways the Holy Spirit is at work in your neighborhood.]
Starting a ministry after years of separation from other congregations is no easy task on its own; consider a very small diocesan staff, and it seems almost impossible. But God meets us where we are and works through us to make amazing things happen in our communities, and San Joaquin is no different.
"This is scrappy ministry,” Canon Carmichael said, “pulling everything we can together because our people know firsthand what it's like to be isolated, alienated, to live on the margins as the Church, and they see that same isolation and marginalization and alienation in their community."
The story of the San Joaquin Food Ministries is one of perseverance, responsiveness, and hope. It took some big dreaming and outspoken voices, but the people in the Central Valley who have lived on the edge discovered their common desire to serve others, which has brought them closer than ever and given them a path forward as a diocese.
"We can make a difference in this,” Canon Carmichael said. “We can change this narrative. We can participate in breaking the cycle."