Major holidays like Thanksgiving are often spent with family near or far. For Christ United Methodist Church in Westfield, IN, Thanksgiving 2021 was about building relationship and connection in the city of Westfield by hosting a “Friendsgiving” meal.
The idea stemmed from Lisa Brandenburg, who moved with her family from New Jersey to Westfield in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She found herself needing to build community from the ground up. As her family made Christ United Methodist Church in Westfield their spiritual home, Lisa also began a Facebook group to meet other women and develop friendships. Informal meet-ups and outings took shape, such as visits to the park, walks, or TV show viewings.
Lisa quickly realized that she wasn’t the only one who was looking for community. Even those who had lived in Westfield for a long time were feeling the isolation and loneliness of the pandemic. The group, “Women Building Friendships in Westfield,” became the inspiration for Friendsgiving, and Lisa kept praying for God to open doors to make the event happen.
Meanwhile, the United Methodist Women group at Christ UMC wanted to sponsor a community event. They were discerning future plans when Lisa came to the group and pitched the idea of a community Friendsgiving, a place for people to connect. It was a match, and there was a distinct sense that God was bringing all of the pieces together.
Friendsgiving took place in late November 2021, serving over one hundred guests with over 30 volunteers. There was a scavenger hunt and trivia for children, a delicious full Thanksgiving meal, and even karaoke. During the meal, local non-profits shared about resources available to community members.
The meal was supported by a $250 gift from Meijer, and congregants who donated turkeys, pies, rolls, and then some. The meal even raised $247 for the Westfield Youth Assistance Program which was matched by a donor for a total of nearly $500.
Rev. Kara Bussabarger reflected on the event saying, “I am proud of our congregation for being willing to risk, step out in faith, and try new opportunities to connect with the community. We seek to be a church in the heart of the city with a heart for the city. Friendsgiving was a beautiful picture of Jesus’ ministry being lived out, inviting everyone to the table and into relationship.”
When asked about why they’d want to host an event like this, Linda Lutes, Chair of the United Methodist Women, pointed to her faith and the relationship between service and being a Christian. “I do think that we are the hands and feet of Jesus. He came to be a servant, and we are to serve. There’s a great reward in serving and getting to know people.”
Lisa sees God’s fingerprints all over her family’s relocation, the women’s friendship facebook group, and Friendsgiving. “I keep hearing these women say to me, “Lisa, thank you for leading these events.” I have to keep telling them that it’s not me, it’s God. God has called me to serve these women and to build community. Don’t underestimate what a small group of volunteers can do, and don’t underestimate how much the community needs things like this. People are hurting.”
Christ UMC intends to carry on the tradition of Friendsgiving in the years to come. Pastor Kara says, “I am so humbled by our church’s leaders. I have encouraged them to chase God-sized dreams. I believe with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can dream bigger dreams than we have ever imagined. I am proud of the lay leaders for stepping out in faith and trying something new. Through them and Friendsgiving, connections were created in our community.”