FROM READERS: 'Loaves and Fishes' unites many to help those in need

Friday, August 31, 2012 | 8:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:08 p.m. CDT, Friday, August 31, 2012
Bradley Bryan begins services on Feb. 26 at Olivet Christian Church with a Johnny Cash song. Bryan is the worship leader for the new alternative worship service, called The Altar. Nontraditional church songs are one aspect of the service, such as the opening song by Johnny Cash and "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson.

Brad Bryan leads an alternative worship service called The Altar at Olivet at the Olivet Christian Church, plays drums in the local rock band Disengaged and participates in philanthropy work in the community.

When I got a job as a worship leader in 2010, I became the third Bryan to be in ministry in Columbia. In fact, now that I think about it, there’s been a Bryan preacher serving Columbia for 32 of the past 60 years.


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My grandfather, Bishop Monk Bryan, served the congregation at Missouri United Methodist Church for 19 years in the days of The Beatles, civil rights, Vietnam, and into the rise of disco. My father, the Rev. James J. Bryan, served that church for the first 11 years of this century.

My current role, designing and facilitating an "alternative" worship service with the congregation of Olivet Christian Church (The Altar at Olivet, 5 p.m. Sundays, if I may shamelessly plug), is very different from the senior pastor positions of my father and grandfather. Still, to be working for a church in Columbia with my last name is a noteworthy thing. There’s a man who attends my service, primarily because we sing Creedence Clearwater Revival and Johnny Cash, who was baptized by my grandfather at Missouri United Methodist Church in the 1960s. That pretty much says it all. 

But as proud as I am to be a part of the Bryan history in Columbia, I’m equally proud of a leaf on the other branch of my family tree. My grandmother, Carmen Wood, turns 95 on Sept. 2, and for 60 of those years she’s been a member of Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church.

Recently, my friend and former classmate Meg Hegemann became the pastor there, and the congregation was faced with some tough choices. After lots of prayer, a few hotly contentious board meetings and some brave ministerial work, the church decided the future of its ministry would include a special emphasis on ministry with the poor.

As a part of that, they became the new home of Loaves and Fishes, a nightly free dinner provided in the basement of the church and sponsored by varying churches and organizations. As a tribute to my grandmother — Carmen to some, Nanny to all of us — and due to my connections with Rev. Hegemann, I started to volunteer on Friday evenings as a presence for Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church and a helpful hand to whichever group provides dinner. 

Sunday mornings and election years can be segregating and dividing times in middle America. What was once, "I feel differently than you about the policies that will help our country," has become, "Everyone on your side of things hates America."

But, there are no politics at Loaves and Fishes. No theology or God-talk. A United Methodist Church provides the space. Volunteers from The Crossing, The Disciples of Christ congregations, Baptist congregations and no church whatsoever provide the food.

It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about a community coming together to give the needy within that community a free, hot, healthy meal. It’s true ministry. And Nanny would be proud of it. 

I was asked by a friend to write up one of these "From Readers" entries. If I ever get asked to write any more, the subject will almost always be what a great place to live Columbia, Missouri really is. Whether your roots go back generations like mine or you just got here with the new school year, you’ll see Columbia as a special town. What is happening at Loaves and Fishes every night at 5 p.m. is just one thing that makes Columbia great. 

Loaves and Fishes, at 702 Wilkes Blvd., is free to the public and open every day from 5 to 6:15 p.m. For more information on volunteering you can call Ruth O'Neill at 573-268-8095. 

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising Editor is Joy Mayer.

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