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Marj Johnston coordinates Shalom Ministries meal program

After a three-and-a-half-year ministry as associate at Westminster Congregational UCC in Spokane, Marj Johnston began last summer as executive director of Spokane’s dining with dignity program through Shalom Ministries at Central United Methodist Church.

Marj Johnston and Dave Custer
Marj Johnston of Shalom Mennonite/UCC and David Custer, a Shalom Ministries volunteer from Westminster Congregational UCC with a box of bread they picked up at Second Harvest.

Meals are served buffet style with silverware, china plates and cups offering guests choice on what and how much they want to eat.

Shalom Ministries is a bridge between what we talk about in church worship and studies, and the reality outside the church,” she said. “It helps us look at people in a different way—looking for God’s image in them.”

While she continues to search for a church to pastor, she is gaining experiences in loving neighbors and in seeing Jesus when she serves “the least” of her brothers and sisters.

Some are the same people Westminster used to serve when it offered a Life Feed free lunch on fourth Saturdays.

“The difference is now I have names and stories to go with faces of people,” she said.

Started in 1993 by the outreach committee of Central UMC in response to a call by the General Ministries of the national UMC, Shalom Ministries seeks to provide a "Shalom Zone" violence-free space for diverse people to gather.

Shalom Ministries serves breakfast to 125 people Mondays through Thursdays, with 150 to 175 coming the last week of the month. Monday dinners serve 150 to 200 people.

About 150 volunteers from local churches, businesses and partner agencies serve meals, help cook and help behind-the-scenes. Marj said there is currently a need for more volunteers to drive and cook, since Shalom Ministries’ head cook resigned.

Guests for the breakfasts and dinners are from Hope House, House of Charity, Truth Ministries, Union Gospel Mission, Crosswalk and Salvation Army shelters, from the streets and low-income units in the city. The only expectation is that guests treat each other with respect. Marj said the regulars provide self policing, plus are among the many volunteers.

“Because we serve single people who fall through the cracks for other meal programs, we also have service agencies provide resources,” she said.

A representative from Spokane Mental Health’s outreach team comes. Spokane AIDS Network does free HIV screening. Washington State University’s Nursing School students come to build conversation about health care needs as simple as wearing dry socks.

For volunteers and guests, it’s an opportunity to talk with people and build relationships.

We hear many stories—and some are true—to build relationships and honor people with genuine conversation,” said Marj, who brings to the work background in social services, as well as ministry.

Marj, who grew up American Baptist in Raymond, Wash., was a member of Westminster since 2004, joining to complete her credentials for ordination after earning a MDiv from Chicago Theological Seminary that year.

After graduating from Western Washington University in 1992 in Bellingham in human services, she served as social services director at a nursing home.

During a 30-month term volunteering with a nondenominational mission program in Washington, D.C., she said her pastor encouraged her to enter ministry.

In Spokane, she first worked for three years in housing and family development with the SNAP homeless program, then seven years with Catholic Charities’ Partners for Community Living, coordinating a shared housing program for persons with disabilities.

“As many other nonprofits, our survival is based on donations of individuals, congregations, businesses and agencies, with a few grants,” she said, “because, although we do not preach at people, we do bless the food and the hands that prepare it.”

Second Harvest, Northwest Harvest and Feed Spokane help supply food.

Westminster UCC partners in providing regular presence of members volunteering every morning and serving dinners. It also provides real milk, so guests don’t have to drink powdered milk. It also hosted a recent Seattle Women’s Chorus Concert and shared $500 in donations with the program.

Shalom UCC/Mennonite Church, where Marj is now a member, has established a Shalom Cares Fund to help with urgent needs and for bus tickets, ID cards, rent and utility assistance.

She served on the Shalom Ministries Board before being asked to take on the role.

“Changes in city, county, state and federal resources for our guests mean there is more need for Shalom Ministries’ safe, gracious space,” she said.

For information, call 509-455-9019.

Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © Summer 2011





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