Reconnecting with Our Roots

By: Rev. Jill Buckley

As the history goes, Stewpot Community Services was founded in 1981 by a group of downtown churches who saw a persistent and unmet need in our city and came together to help meet it.  Now, 36 years later, thanks to the deep commitment and strong vision of people of faith all over our city, Stewpot continues to respond to deep need in a host of important ways.

What many do not know, however, is the backstory: In the late 1970s, Bill Cook, Jr., who was then the chair of the Missions Committee at Central Presbyterian Church, discovered a new feeding ministry in Dallas, Texas, called “The Stewpot.” He and his wife, Ann, drove over to check it out…and they were inspired. When they returned, they gathered leaders from downtown churches who were likewise looking for ways to respond compassionately to the need at their doorstep.  They determined what they could reasonably and faithfully do together and stepped out on faith. Thus, the “Community Stewpot,” as it was then known, was born here in Jackson, MS.

During the last week of June, a group of senior staff members and I trekked over to the “original” Stewpot in Dallas, Texas, to reconnect with our roots. The Dallas Stewpot has seen the same kind of exponential growth that we have, and we wanted to find out what challenges they had faced in their evolution and learn from the still-creative ways they have discerned to respond.

Like us, they are still serving lunch, but thanks to a creative partnership with the City, they are also serving breakfast and dinner to approximately 400 individuals at each meal. They operate a day shelter similar to ours, but they have added case management, a representative payee program, and an onsite mental health clinic. Like us, they have an in-house art program, but they have added a “street choir” that recently performed at Carnegie Hall and the National Cathedral.  And, like us, they have added year-round children’s programs for children who are homeless or at-risk and their families. We were surprised and delighted by the similarities…and we learned much from the differences.

The Dallas Stewpot connected us with other Dallas ministries that are focused on serving people who are homeless and in deep need.  We saw a “tiny house” community built specifically for the chronically homeless; we saw different ways to organize our Food Pantry; we were inspired by the ways one agency is using technology to help track and care for its clients.

Most importantly, though, we returned both grateful and hopeful. We are grateful for the ways we are already “getting it right” by responding with respectful compassion and thoughtful programming for the people who need us. We are also grateful for the many strong leaders and the wide community support that have moved us forward. And, we are hopeful about our future. Because of our deep roots, because we are still buttressed by a generous community of support (that means you!), and because we are still being blown by the wind of the Holy Spirit, we know will continue to evolve to respond to the deep need now at our doorstep.

Thank you to the sponsors who made our trip possible. We are better because of it, and we couldn’t have done it without you.