Alum heads unique food truck ministry
Pastor Margaret Kelly, ’09, Pastor, Shobi’s Table, St. Paul.
Sometimes, the call doesn’t come right away. Margaret Kelly is thankful for that—even if the waiting wasn’t what she was hoping for at the time.
“The way my story starts is that God’s time isn’t my time, and I shake my fist at God for that,” Kelly says. “But it’s always better that it’s that way because I wouldn’t have (my daughter,) Francis.”
All the pieces came together because of the waiting. “If I had a call when I wanted a call, I wouldn’t have worked as a social worker in Ramsey County,” she says. “Besides not having my family, I wouldn’t have that professional experience to build relationships and get the credibility to do this ministry.”
What is this ministry that is Shobi’s Table? In short, it’s a food truck.
Shobi’s Table, named after a passage from 2 Samuel, is a ministry among people in poverty—two areas that Kelly knows plenty about. She’s also worked as a cook, so the ministry fit is pretty perfect.
Thursday mornings, Kelly starts at Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in St. Paul to do the prep work for the free calzones they will serve. By the end of the morning, the truck rolls on to Payne Avenue to serve the meal. But Shobi’s Table is about more than the food.
“The food shelf is good, but Shobi’s Table is seeking to answer a different question than hunger,” Kelly says. “We get deeper when we look at community support, loving and caring for one another. Simply serving your community builds you up in a way when you need to figure out how to get your next meal.”
“We get deeper when we look at community support, loving and caring for one another. Simply serving your community builds you up in a way when you need to figure out how to get your next meal.”
Prayer is one of the main ingredients of the Shobi’s Table ministry. Yet religion isn’t what this group is serving. “We don’t make anyone sit through religion to get a meal,” she says. When the critical mass hits, Kelly starts a service of reading the Bible, saying prayers and giving a brief message.
Then, anyone who wants to can come together and talk about what they need to pray for and then they pray. “It’s about the feeling of being remembered and receiving the pastoral care that is needed in that moment,” Kelly says. “Folks are eager to give us the updates—and that’s community. And somebody cares that they stayed sober or out of trouble or got a place to stay or got to see their kids again.
“I’m not the evangelist. I’m the pastor in praying with each other, but honestly, the folks who do the work of Shobi’s Table are so generous, kind and good,” she says. “They bless people as they come and go and draw people in.”
In order to get the funding to make the food truck ministry a reality, Kelly gathered the support of traditional churches in St. Paul that wanted to participate with their neighbors and not just give charity.
“The supporting congregations want to figure out how we do this together. Our model is such that we can fund our own ministry because we can do fundraising at other churches for their fundraisers (by providing food),”she says. “We’re not just receiving something for nothing, but offering a service—we have something that people need. We bring together food, community and fun—and that feels good.”
When asked if she’s had any converts to Christ, Kelly’s response may surprise some. But it goes hand in hand with the theme of Mid-Winter Convocation. “What I do find is that we’re converting the people in the pews—that people are feeling new energy in being church, being in relationship and being community. We’re converting Lutherans.”
Kelly says she never wants to have a non-synodical call. “Shobi’s Table should always be supported by the synod because this is a value that the ELCA holds. We gotta figure out justice and how to draw people in who aren’t hearing the unique word. I love that there are 105 congregations that have a say in my ministry and a whole community says this is of value.”
The motto of Shobi’s Table is “the infinitely flexible church.” It helps to have an infinitely flexible pastor to drive this ministry to the places it needs to be.