By Jessica Brodie
ROCK HILL, SC—Bethel United Methodist is a small church with a big heart, and it’s doing some bold things for its community in the name of Jesus.
With an average of 50 members in worship each Sunday, it still manages to host a thriving soup kitchen for the entire community each Thursday throughout the winter, plus for the past 10 years, it has offered a warm place to stay for homeless men.
“It allows us to live out the Gospel, specifically Matthew 25 and I would even say Deuteronomy 15:11, and as we live out those passages, I as a pastor find myself fulfilling my call to serve all God’s children and make space for all people,” said the Rev. Emily Sutton, Bethel’s pastor for the past six years, noting the soup kitchen and warming center are a vital ministry of the congregation.
The soup kitchen started roughly 30 years ago and has morphed into what Sutton calls a “rather unique” ministry that serves most every segment in the Rock Hill community. Initially launched to serve the church’s sick and homebound members, Bethel began hosting it onsite after great request. Not only does it feed people in need, but local teachers and county employees frequent the soup kitchen weekly, as does the former mayor, retirees, and others seeking fellowship during what can be the lonely winter months.
The warming center began 10 years ago to provide a warm meal and a place to stay for adult men who had no place to go during the winter. In the beginning it served just a few men, but it has grown steadily. Last year, it hit 25-30 men each night, and this year sheltered 31 the first night and saw a high of 56 men one night, largely because of the booming population and lack of affordable housing.
“This is just what the church does,” Sutton said, calling their actions “Kingdom work.”