‘We accept everyone who comes through that door’

Left to right, Lisa Sharpton, Joyce White and Sissy Warnick prepare plates for Northside Baptist Church’s community meal hosted Oct. 10, 2023. (Cayla Grace Murphy)

Northside Baptist Church hosts monthly community meal

CULLMAN, Ala. – The small parking lot of Northside Baptist Church was packed on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, as Cullman residents weaved in and out of the door of a small building to the side of the sanctuary. The scent of lush marinara sauce with hints of garlic wafted out of the door as hungry folks walked out with towering boxes filled to the brim with dinner for their families, all exchanging pleasantries with Pastor Stephen Stringer as they came and went. 

Stringer, a pastor of nearly 30 years, shared that this sight is pretty typical for them every second Tuesday of the month. Over 130 people, including 12 new families, came Oct. 10 to be filled not just with food, but a sense of belonging. 

“Well, we have a responsibility to minister to our community,” said Stringer very matter-of-factly. “This month we really picked up; I’ve counted 135. Most of the time it’s a little over a hundred.” 

Stringer said that while the dinners are very well attended, it’s not usually his own congregation showing up for the meals. Nestled in the heart of refurbished shotgun houses and government housing, Northside Baptist has made it a point to be open to the whole community, not just those who sit in its pews on Sunday. While much of the west side of town is undergoing massive revitalization, some residents are still just getting by. Northside aims to lighten the load for families in the area, at least one night a month. 

“We have very few people from our church who eat here. Most of them are just community members, you know, different walks of life,” he explained. “Some you can tell have been on things, some may be homeless. We accept everyone who comes through that door; we try to love on all of them.” 

According to Stringer, Northside’s community meal is not one that many think of when they envision church-sponsored dinners. There are no gospel tracts snuck between dinner rolls and desserts, no obnoxiously loud preaching while you’re slurping up spaghetti and you aren’t required to come to church after. Stringer maintains that his church’s mission is just to meet the needs that many food-insecure residents have, and if the attendees are open to it, go from there. 

“Instead of sharing the gospel first, let’s try to meet their needs in life. We can share the gospel on the path, but we need to meet that need first,” he said. 

Stringer noted he doesn’t put this dinner on by himself – a dedicated team of volunteers gathers to make the magic happen by giving both their time and resources to ensure the success of the monthly dinners, and they are more than happy to do so. A few take on the task of cooking enough to feed a small platoon, while a few more act as hosts to make guests feel welcomed and safe. 

“Our people love doing it,” he said. “We normally have about 15 or 16 people (volunteer). We may not need them, but they sit around and talk to the people who come in.” 

As attendance at these dinners increases, and with the rising cost of everything – especially food and paper products, which are both needed to make the dinner successful – Stringer and his church members have decided to stop relying on donations and step out in faith by penciling it into the church’s annual expenses. 

“People have been giving out of their pocket, but this year, we’re putting it in our budget,” he smiled.  

While it may seem a lofty goal to some to continue to host these dinners, Stringer said it’s just a matter of doing what he believes God has called them to do: serve their neighbors, love God and love others. 

“God’s been good to us; He’s met our needs in every way. It’s really about stepping out in faith,” he nodded, shutting his to-go container of spaghetti as he waved to another family leaving with bellies full and faces smiling. 

Northside Baptist Church hosts its free community meal every second Tuesday of the month at the building next to its sanctuary, with the next meal being Nov. 14, 2023. The meal begins at 5 p.m. and ends at 6:30, or while supplies last. The church is located at 1310 Katherine St NW. 

For more information about Northside Baptist Church, visit www.facebook.com/NBCCullman.  

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