Serving healthy foods at church

Food is our way of celebrating our lives together. Our culture teaches us that if we love someone, feed him/her; if we really love someone, give him/ her something sweet to eat. But the food we give to others may just be killing them.

Food, glorious food! Our lives, including our liturgical lives, revolve around food. We gather each Sunday around the altar to eat and drink the bread and wine of Eucharist. We gather after worship for more food and fellowship. Almost every gathering of the faithful includes food, from coffeehours to potlucks, baptisms to funerals. In Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, Norman Wirzba says, “When we invite other people to join us around a table we demonstrate that our life is first and foremost a shared life, a life that is possible and can only be made complete, when all the members of creation are whole and received and given again as precious gifts of God.” (p. 233)

At St. John’s, Columbus, we serve lunch to anywhere from 50 to 150 people on Sunday afternoon following our Eucharistic meal at Street Church. And we join the community for another meal on Wednesday evenings at His Place, where St. John’s partners with groups from other churches and organizations to offer food to those who may not otherwise be fed.

Food is our way of celebrating our lives together. Our culture teaches us that if we love someone, feed him/her; if we really love someone, give him/ her something sweet to eat. But the food we give to others may just be killing them. Rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease continue to rise in our fast-paced, fast food world. The effects of poor nutrition are most devastating in low-income communities.

St. John’s has worked closely with Franklinton Gardens for several years to promote local access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the food desert surrounding the church. And congregations serving at His Place and Street Church have cooperated in serving healthier meals to our guests, cutting back on pasta, sweets and breads. Last year St. John’s Mission Council, in partnership with the Columbus Health Department, took a dramatic step forward by adopting a Healthy Foods Policy.

Beginning with the conviction that as beloved children of God and created in God’s image, part of our stewardship of creation is to take care of our bodies. As Christians, we believe that serving healthy foods to others is a way to demonstrate love of our neighbors. And we recognize that the choices individuals make are shaped by the choices they have in their daily environment. In other words, by choosing to serve healthier foods, we encourage healthier lifestyles.

The transition has been difficult. Cultural habits and financial realities have created challenges. Fruits and vegetables are more costly than processed foods. And we’ve heard lots of comments: “But we’ve always brought cookies as snacks for children.” “Everyone loves my gooey lemon bars.” “People won’t eat vegetables and whole grains, and they love mashed potatoes.” “I can’t think of anything that’s not sweet or salty to bring to coffee hour.”

But we’ve also heard the other side. At His Place, “We ran out of broccoli. Next time we’ll have to bring more.” At Street Church, “Thanks for the hard boiled eggs and tangerines. I can save them for later.” At coffee hour, “I’d like the recipe for those kale chips.” At a potluck dinner, “That chicken salad made with yogurt, grapes, and nuts was delicious!”


The effort has been so successful that we want to share the idea with other congregations. We invite the whole diocese to contribute to a new cookbook that will feature alternatives to the cakes, cookies and casseroles of more traditional cookbooks. We’re calling it Not Your Mother’s Church Cookbook. We will also include tips on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles, as well as scriptural references to the food/faith connection. Proceeds from the sale of the cookbook will go toward the support of St. John’s work in the Franklinton neighborhood of Columbus.

Please send your recipes to St. John’s, 1003 W. Town St., Columbus, OH 43222. Be sure to include your name, email address, and phone number, as well as the source of the recipe if it is not an original.

Lee Anne Reat serves as vicar of St. John’s, Columbus. Contact her at


To support the health and wellness of our congregation and our neighborhood residents, St. John’s Episcopal Church will include ongoing opportunities for physical activity at community events and congregation functions; such as active play (running, dancing, sports games, hula hooping) and/or exercise; such as gardening or walking. Foods purchased, prepared and/or served by St. John’s Episcopal Church will provide a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet. St. John’s Episcopal Church will make a strong effort to offer healthy food items when any meal is served, including a vegetable, a fruit and a whole grain. Fried foods, including reheated pre-fried foods, will not be served. Foods containing refined sugar will be kept to a minimum.

Water will be made freely available and encouraged when beverages are offered. A water dispenser will also be made available for all special events when beverages are served.

The following guidelines will support healthy food and beverage choices for St. John’s Episcopal Church functions and events when food is purchased, prepared, and/or served:

•No fried foods will be served
•Foods containing refined sugar will be kept to a minimum (cookies, donuts, brownies, etc.)
•Only water, coffee/tea, 100% fruit juice, and/or skim/1% milk will be served
•At least one type of fresh fruit and vegetable will be served at each event
•100% whole grains will be used whenever possible •No sugar sweetened beverages such as lemonade, sodas or sports drinks will be served.