There is something to be said about early morning meetings: one feels strangely refreshed and energetic by the end of them. Maybe it is because there is an opportunity to truly focus and take notice of what and who is around you before all the stress of the day sets in. Walking into Oxford Hall at 7 a.m. on the day of the Men’s Fellowship Breakfast, one can feel the dynamic shift in energy from the quiet stillness outside in the parking lot. Hearty laughter, bright smiles and firm handshakes from men both young and old await you when walking into the room, and an overwhelming sense of warmth and welcome.
But what makes the Men’s Fellowship Breakfast so popular with the men of MPPC? If you ask Johnny Belk, the chief orchestrator behind the event, what draws people in is the sense of community and fellowship. As a member of the Congregational Care Council, Johnny noticed there was a lack of meaningful programming for men in the church to engage with one another. “From my own experience at Myers Park, I realized how hard it is to connect to others if they are worshiping at different times and/or choose a different type of service,” Johnny says. At their first meeting the council shared the different initiatives they would focus on which all primarily involved women. Johnny inquired about initiatives to engage men in the congregation and found the options to be slim. “How do we better connect men in a faith format that will be attractive to them and cause them to want to come back?” Tapping into his prior experiences for a way to engage men with fellowship, Johnny combined food and fellowship to create the Men’s Fellowship Breakfast.
This year’s theme addressed the importance of friendship among men with a message delivered by Pastor Tom Are, Senior Pastor of Village Church in Prairie Village, Kansas. As a good friend of Joe Clifford, Tom had many stories to share and he used those experiences to illustrate why we need to build relationships with others, the most obvious being to erase feelings of loneliness and isolation. One interesting point Tom made was how our use of social media and dependence on technology contributes to our isolation as a society. Despite how connected we may feel when using these outlets, studies have shown that we feel more alone than ever because we are lacking that real-world interaction. “Our Lord called us to this when the new commandment was given at the Lord’s Supper: ‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another,’” says Joe. “It’s such a simple call, but in the day to day demands of life, it is a profound challenge.” Tom’s solution to this? Make a list of all of the people that are important in your life. Keep the list in your wallet and periodically check it, making sure to make time for those people weekly, monthly, or however often you need. This is just one of the simple ways we can practice mindfulness in our lives.
It’s clear that this gathering of men is so essential to the life of this church, and meetings like this strengthen our faith and encourage a sense of community. “Tom’s message was profound in both its simplicity and its challenge: we are created for friendship,” says Joe. Like anything worthwhile, it doesn’t just happen overnight; we won’t solve the issue of a broken society and isolation in one day, but it’s a great place to start. “Perhaps the most significant aspect of these gatherings is that they are sowing seeds for something that may take much longer to germinate,” Joe adds. “But the harvest of men’s fellowship that could come of this work today will be a tremendous blessing to our congregation’s tomorrows.” “We don’t need to wait for friendship to ‘just happen.’ Like so many things in our lives, the practice of friendship is a spiritual discipline” says Tom. “The genius of the Men’s Breakfast is that it combines a great breakfast, with a little bit of inspiration and then provides men with an opportunity to talk about something that matters. We all need to practice this kind of conversation.”