New Kitchen Caters to Fellowship, Funds Ministry
Everything starts here: Ministry. Fundraising. Fellowship. And, of course, lunch.
The heart of La Iglesia Cristiana La Trinidad in Corpus Christi, Texas, is la cocina — the kitchen. So, a loan from Disciples Church Extension Fund to remodel this important room means much more than improved plumbing or a bigger stove.
“In Hispanic churches, the kitchen is as important as the sanctuary,” says Rosario Ibarra, DCEF Building and Capital Services Advisor.
While she laughs when she says it, the truth behind the statement holds for the Corpus Christi faith community.
“I knew this loan application was all about the ministry, the church’s income stream, the fellowship of the congregation,” Rosario adds. “The kitchen is where it all starts.”
Pastor Liset Uria, who serves the congregation alongside her husband, Carlos, says the loan is a blessing.
“Through 15 years of living in Corpus, we use the kitchen every Sunday for fellowship — and to build our community,” says Pastor Liset.
That might also explain why Pastor Carlos Uria, who serves as a minister, also manages and performs much of the renovation himself, when time allows. Pastor Carlos also holds down a full-time job outside the church.
He also cooks. Whether it’s ropa vieja — tender shredded beef cooked in tomatoes and served over fluffy rice (in English, “old cloths”) — or festive roasted pork shoulder, known as pernil, the food created in this kitchen does more than satisfy hunger.
“People who like the food buy it,” including some special orders by groups, Pastor Liset reports.
Catered dishes like barbeque and Mexican rice bring income for maintenance of the rest of the building and underwrite the ministry.
“Plus, the kitchen is a way to reach out to the community and build relationships,” she adds.
Before the loan, “some purchases and expenses were charged to credit cards of the pastors or the people in the congregation,” she says, adding that high credit card interest rates make such practices unsustainable. “The loan is a good thing!”
“Terms of the loan are really good for the church,” she adds. “Disciples Church Extension Fund was very compassionate and understanding of our needs.”
The congregation boasts 40-45 members; mostly Spanish speaking, primarily from Cuba, Pastor Liset’s family, included. Her parents preceded her in pastoring the church.
But the fellowship also includes members who hail from places like Mexico and Ecuador — as well as a few born in Texas who speak only English.
Fellowship dinners are an international affair:
“It’s potluck and everyone brings favorite dishes from their own culture,” Pastor Liset says.
While the food matters, Spirit-filled worship draws participants, who — regardless of language or culture — find a connection in the music and hope preached in a time of pandemic.
Liset’s brother and her spouse lead the worship team, featuring music that literally comes from the hearts of some of the members — composers whose gifts are part of growing music programs for other congregations. The group has been featured in Southwest Regional gatherings. They also teach music lessons for other congregations, helping start other worship leadership groups in the area.
Like other congregations, La Iglesia was forced to cease in-person worship as lockdowns shuttered the building. In on-again, off-again fashion the congregation has shifted back and forth from in-person to only virtual worship as Texas protocols have allowed.
“We never stopped being a church,” Liset says, “if not in the building, then online. And we always stayed in contact with our people.”
Their YouTube channel now broadcasts the community’s masked worship on the many weeks when gathering together is not an option. It will continue after in-person worship is restored, reaching worshipers who need only access to wifi to join the congregation.
Even as La Iglesia brings music and other gifts to the region, sister congregations have supported the establishment of this congregation, including First Christian Church in Corpus Christi, which provided land with a small building many decades ago. In 1974, La Iglesia built a sanctuary, fellowship hall, classrooms, bathrooms and the first kitchen.
Today, FCC purchases ethnic food for some of their events, an arrangement that benefits both congregations.
“It has been a tough year, but by the grace of God, they were able to pay the bills,” Rosario reports. “They are very encouraged to continue the ministry.”
Members took advantage of building closings, using the time to repair and remodel the building. They learned to use new communication tools that have taken their ministry “beyond the building.”
“COVID has required us to expand our thinking about what church is,” Pastor Liset says.
Even so, there will be a feast to celebrate the end of the pandemic, no doubt, once it’s possible to return to the kitchen.
It’s enough to make one’s mouth water just thinking about it.