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The Pastor's Mother and the Usher (HUMOUR)

The small church with a big heart. Just north of Oxford and a little east of Richmond, St John the Evangelist church has been serving the community since 1888. Today there are 30 active volunteer and community groups operated by the church.

"As a people of God, we choose to express our faith through interactive worship and dynamic ministry, and to utilize our financial and human gifts with responsible stewardship to compassionately and actively care for and serve our parish, our community, and anywhere God calls us."

Fifteen years ago, long-time member of the St John the Evangelist church family, Frances Reimer and her husband, started a meal service for those in need in the area. The two Reimers cooked, served and cleaned up after for the weekly group that came in hungry and left satisfied and smiling. Back then they served 20 and sometimes as many as 30 people but as the years passed the need increased and it became too much for the Reimers to handle on their own. St John the Evangelist took it on as part of its outreach ministries. Today it is involves a committee that organizes teams to purchase, teams to cook and teams to serve the meals.

Every Saturday night at 5pm, a nourishing dinner is served in the parish hall by a roster of rotating teams of volunteers.

With any help organization in the City of London, the St John the Evangelist Meal Program has grown as the number of people below the poverty line look for help. And just like all other help organization, St John the Evangelist needs more volunteers to ensure that all that show up on Saturday evening are served. Finding new volunteers within the congregation gets more difficult as those able to help are spread so thin with most involved in many other volunteer initiatives. How can the program continue if the pool of volunteers is tapped out?

Mary Jane Mann, or MJ as she is known by most is a member of the Meal Program Committee one of the numerous causes she is dedicated to in her life-long work of charity. MJ had an idea, a challenge. Knowing the gratification that comes from doing God’s work, why not go outside the walls of St John the Evangelist looking for a new source of volunteers that could also experience the joy of giving.

MJ and husband Rick are members of the Good Life Fitness Centre in the Masonville area. Both MJ and Rick use the services of personal trainer of Joel McLaughlin. MJ approached Joel and not only did she ask Joel to help at one of the Saturday meal services, she challenged Joel to recruit other trainers at GoodLife to get involved as well.

"I had no problem volunteering my own time to help out, but I really wasn't comfortable about asking others to get involved," said Joel. "Everyone is so busy with their own lives and I was a little embarrassed to ask my co-workers to give up their Saturday night to serve food to the needy. But, because I said 'yes' to MJ before really thinking it through, I knew that I had to somehow find a way to get it done."

Joel posted a sign-up sheet in the staff room with the details of the program. He put his name on the sheet so others would not feel that they would be alone. He worried he would not get any sign-ups but when he came in the next morning, there were three more on the list below his name. Next day, three more and by the time the Friday before their day to help rolled around, the list had expanded to eleven!

"I was thrilled but still hesitant. Would they actually show up at the church? I called a few friends to help out just in case some didn't show up." Joel continues "I couldn't believe it, everyone showed up as well as the friends I had asked to help out. "

MJ adds, "Yes, I was a bit concerned too. Joel is a lovely young man and I knew he would give the recruitment 100%. But these are young people in their twenties and we are expecting them to give up their Saturday night in the middle of the summer. It was so wonderful when Joel's team started arriving. I saw the relief on Joel’s face as he greeted one after another after another until he had a crowd of at least fifteen eager soles ready to pitch in."

It was a big crowd that night, 157 men women and children arriving for the meal. They served the 157 with seconds and thirds, 221 plates and 24 litres of milk in all. As each of the patrons leave, they are given a bag of fresh bread, courtesy of Angelo's Bakery.

As the last of the diners departed and the cleanup was done MJ remembers the pride she saw in this team of young people. "They were comparing stories from the evening and in awe on how thankful the people were people with so little."

"It was really great. I was so proud of everyone and many told me that they want to be told when they could do it again," said Joel. The next slot on the schedule is in December and he says he will be there with his crew and more. Joel said others heard about it now want to get involved.

MJ summed it up, "Mission accomplished. Joel is a wonderful young man with a big heart. I know he will be back. Helping is infectious and Joel has the caught the bug."

If you alone or you and a group are willing to help out with the St John the Evangelist Church Meal Program once every few months, you are encouraged to contact Rev. Rob Luxton at 519-432-3743.