Every fortnight a small group gathers in the kitchen of Austinmer Anglican. The church building, which was once the local RSL club, uses its former Chinese restaurant kitchen to cook all sorts of cuisines as part of an ongoing local ministry.
Known as “For the Love of”, or “FLO”, the heart of the ministry is to bring people together around food, equip them with skills, and share with the wider community. People register to come to cooking workshops and share a meal with one another, then together they prepare enough to deliver meals to nominated individuals in the neighbourhood.
Wendy Potts, who oversees the ministry’s vision and leadership, says the aim has always been to do something significant as well as achievable. Not only did Austinmer have the facilities for FLO, it also had people with cooking skills and a heart for those who might be in need of company.
“We didn’t want to just offer food parcels… we wanted to offer community with the view to people discovering Jesus"
By doubling the amount cooked in workshops, those involved maximise their community impact. In the past 12 months they have given away more than 150 meals to people suffering illness, or enduring hardship.
The ministry also partners with OzHarvest and Anglicare to ensure it can be a blessing in as many ways as possible. OzHarvest delivers fresh food that would otherwise go to waste, and Anglicare provided an initial pantry of non-perishables. Through distributed recipe cards, workshop attendees also are pointed to further services such as Anglicare’s financial and mental health support.
“That was our vision for it, and why we came up with the term ‘For the Love Of’: for the love of good food, for the love of neighbours, for the love of friendship, for the love of God,” Mrs Potts explains.
“We have people who love cooking and giving food, we love eating and that was the shape of the ministry.”
FLO started almost three years ago, has survived two COVID lockdowns, and reaches a number of locals who don’t attend church. Each workshop brings together a mix of people from church and the community and, says Mrs Potts, “We hope there will be natural friendships and conversations around the table and natural next steps that happen in terms of relationships, and the experience of Christian community”.
She adds that an older gentleman was invited by his neighbour, who recognised he was lonely and invited him to the workshop. “He comes every time now, and it’s been a beautiful thing to watch him come along. One of our older ministers has come alongside him and meets for coffee with him.
“Pray we can continue to have relationship-building moments with our non-church community, and that they can take steps towards Jesus through us.”