The Harvest Story
“Some of you may not know how Harvest Ministries began, and I believe I am the longest parishioner here at FAC, so I have a bit of history myself! The Harvest Story began over 75 years ago, from the humble beginnings of FAC in a home, then to a building on 17th Ave, and finally to our own building on Glenmore Trail for 35 years.
The congregations always valued hospitality, food, and the warm environment of a simple meal. Back then, of course, it was potlucks and covered dishes in the church basement and the amazing community that came with it. Even the idea of having an actual food service in the church was unheard of and years away in thought.
This is where my story intertwines. My parents were founding members of FAC, and I was born and raised here at FAC. I was dedicated here, came to Jesus at 8 years of age at Pioneer Girls Club, was baptized at 16 here, met and married my hubby here, had my own four kids and dedicated them here, and buried my beloved parents here.
It has been my church home for over 6 decades.
My folks had an amazing gift of hospitality; my dad would hunt down people he didn’t know and invite them home for Sunday dinner and my mom was a wonderful cook. So the combo of new friendships and scrumptious meals was natural for us. This carried forward into my own home and also became a way to support my growing family. I developed a home baking business which soon led to a catering business that the entire family ‘loved’ to help with.
In the late ’90s, I took a class here at FAC called ‘Discover Your Design’. It was a course designed to tap into God-given gifts and desires. The facilitator asked a question: ‘If you could do anything for God and know you couldn’t fail, what would it be?’ The immediate answer that came to my mind was to feed people in the church and start a food service ministry here at FAC.
When he then asked us all to share our answers around the room, I was a little embarrassed. Others were sharing their lofty spiritual ideas of overseas mission work and fabulously complicated ministries. When it came my turn, I meekly said, ‘I actually just wanna cook for Jesus and feed everybody.’ It was very simple but was received beautifully. And before the evening was over, the seeds had been planted.
Just a few weeks later, the Lord gave me the desires of my heart. I was hired by FAC to take care of all their catering needs, then just a while later asked to develop a food ministry utilizing the small group and volunteer context. I was thrilled. Because of my love for this cooking ministry, I boldly and shamelessly asked and invited anyone and everyone I made eye contact with to join me in the fun. Fortunately, most said yes, and we had the makings of many great teams. Some even in this very room said yes to me!
We named our ministry Harvest Ministries, chosen to accurately identify it as a ministry rather than simply a kitchen. In John 4:35, Jesus describes the fields as ‘ripe for harvest,’ and our ministry is about providing food for both the body and the soul. We quickly became a place to connect, a place to belong, and a place to grow. A safe place to share life stories, learn some great cooking hints, teach, and make new friendships. As we grew, we needed hundreds of volunteers to come alongside to meet the needs.
We had young volunteers as young as 7 years old, as well as 85-plus-year-olds, folks at all ages and stages of their own journeys, coming together for the common goal of loving others to Jesus by serving in our kitchen. We began providing meals for both inside FAC ministries and outside groups, weddings, and conferences, as well as developed our family suppers: Pasta Tuesdays, Wednesday Family Suppers, Pizza and Pop Fridays, Souper Saturdays, and Sunday Brunches.
As our congregation outgrew our Glenmore Trail location, we began plans for our new facility here at 40th Street, including our amazing kitchen and a separate café in the middle of the atrium. We moved to this location in September 2005. It was thrilling to see God working and providing for our ministry and myself folks who were willing to become part of the Harvest Staff Team. 100% of the 15 people who have been on the Harvest Staff team began as volunteers who loved being a part of God’s handiwork in the kitchen and café.
The enormity of what all of our volunteers have accomplished is nothing short of miraculous. Harvest met each need with a yes. We have gotten to nourish thousands and just to name a few of the events: 25 2000-person Stampede Breakfasts, years of September Kick-offs, delighting hundreds after our nightly Christmas dramas with desserts and coffee, Chili Cook-offs, Dinner Theatre 5 nights in a row with a plated dinner for 200+ attendees, Seniors lunches, 2000+ person conferences for 2 to 3 days, feeding them 3 times a day. We took up the mantle during the flood, feeding the folks in High River twice a week for the entire summer, grad banquets, fundraising banquets, small intimate gatherings, weddings, and funerals—all of life’s occasions.
I found myself in 2012 with this huge, exciting, growing ministry and a calendar full of events, and without a second in command. The Lord once again provided and put in front of me my own son, asking me for the job. I actually initially said ‘NO’ to which Sterling came back to me and said, ‘Respectfully Mom, I think that’s the wrong decision, and I’d like you to reconsider.’ So in February 2012, I hired Sterling to be our new kitchen manager, to come alongside me, and we navigated beautifully with minimal bumps the next season of Harvest Ministry. How fun we all had with this new kid on the block, with his new ideas, his new menus, his new spices, and his new way of doing things! And the ministry continued to grow.
God’s timing is just so perfect; the Bible encourages us as older leaders to mentor and raise up new leaders and not be afraid to pass the baton of ministry and leadership on to them. So in July 2017, I passed the torch and leadership mantle of Harvest Ministries onto Sterling. He became my boss, but as I always say, ‘Mom always trumps boss!’
I’m going to go a little mom right now and just say that these last 12 years have been the most incredibly sweet season of my ministry career here at FAC. To work alongside and do ministry with Sterling has been a true joy. I have loved seeing his leadership flourish and grow, his passion for excellence, his growing love for the Lord and His word, his tenderness and love for all the volunteers, especially his beloved youth café teams. To taste his incredible creations, try to follow his plating directions, decipher his instructions, and see his desire to grow and improve both spiritually and in his culinary skills. Thank you, Sterling, my coworker for the Kingdom, my brother in Christ, and my son.
God has worked and provided in every way down through the years. It’s about the incredible legacy of thousands of servant-hearted volunteers over the last 25 years who have selflessly given your time, gifts, yeses, and feet. I say it often, but without our volunteers, we would not have this wonderful food service ministry. They are the hands and feet of Jesus to our ministries and all of our guests.
As I move into this chapter of retirement, my heartbeat will continue to be homemaking. I will be leaning into my love for my home and my family. I love to teach (I love the idea of teaching young girls, moms, and homemakers how to create a home!). I also want to take time with my kids and grandkids, as well as do a lot more reading and Bible studies. I’ve always provided the environment for others to connect—so now, I am looking forward to doing the connecting! This next season, I am moving forward and keeping my hands open to all that God has for me.”
Thank you, Gail, for your heart and commitment to making people feel at home over the decades at FAC! Learn more about Harvest Ministries and how you can get involved and help with this amazing food ministry at FAC.
You may also be interested in …