Food and Football
Church serves breakfast for local school team on game day
It’s 7:00 a.m. on a brisk fall Friday morning in Fulton, Illinois.
In the darkness, the lights of First Reformed Church shine brightly through the windows. Inside, the smell of bacon frying draws a trickle of young people into the building, talking and laughing as they meet up with their friends and get ready to face the day.
For more than 20 years, this has been the scene every Friday morning during Fulton High School’s football season. Powered by a dedicated group of volunteers, First Reformed provides a hot breakfast for members of the school’s football team and cheerleaders every game day. And after breakfast, the young men and women split up—football players in one room, cheerleaders in another—to listen to a talk from a local church or community leader.
These Steamer Breakfasts—so named for FHS’s nickname, the Steamers—are open to anyone who wants to come, no questions asked. And over the years they’ve proven to be rather popular. On average, the church feeds 50 football players, 15 cheerleaders, a handful of coaches, and a few others at each breakfast.
“The congregation has always owned this as their thing,” says Edie Lenz, pastor of First Reformed. “I line up the speakers, but the rest is all volunteer-run.
“For those running the breakfasts, they say it’s really important for the youth who attend to know two things. First, that we support them, and we care for them. Their community cares about them. And then, that it’s an opportunity for us to share our faith—to say that God loves them, and so do we.”
Lenz says the overarching goal of the Steamer Breakfasts is to provide positive Christian speakers for young men and women in the Fulton community. Each speaker is asked to talk on a predetermined theme; past topics have included life goals, the Ten Commandments, integrity, the fruits of the Spirit, the value of tradition, and humility.
The focus isn’t necessarily one of evangelism, she says—in fact, the volunteers never push church attendance—but more on planting seeds, such as the time one speaker talked about the way words can kill. A few weeks later, Lenz witnessed one student stop an act of bullying.
“He said, ‘Didn’t you hear the pastor?’ and referenced that talk,” says Lenz. “They’re seeing and hearing what we’re doing in the church, and they want to learn more.
“The kids love it—we laugh together, learn together. And we’re giving them an outsider perspective of support, not just the support they get from their coach or their parents. Most of them come every week, and are very gracious. It’s their thing.”
As for the food offered each Friday, it’s as much of a ministry as the speakers are. Cereal, juice, and milk are provided by the congregation as staples each week, and on top of that, the volunteers prepare a hot entrée based on what’s been donated. One First Reformed family with several chickens donates eggs every week.
Lenz says First Reformed is careful not to violate the separation of church and state; she acknowledges the relationship between the church and the public school is unique. In a nod to that relationship, the district’s new superintendent was the guest speaker at the final Steamer Breakfast of the football season—he happens to be a member of an RCA church in a neighboring community.
“Our focus in the past has been on growing our church, but what we’re coming to understand is that our mission is not for ourselves,” says Lenz of her congregation. “We exist for the kingdom of God, and God’s kingdom is bigger than First Reformed.”