Fellowship through food is a way for faith families to connect, convey culture, and share abundance. Narrators bring experiences from all over the world – Israel to California to Lebanon to New York – to inform the way they share a meal together in Alabama.

“I think it also contributes to peoples’ knowledge, peoples’ understanding that there’s diversity in the world and that that’s something to be celebrated and not made fun of,” said Father Justin Rose of St. George Melkite Catholic Church. St. George has hosted the Middle Eastern Food Festival in Birmingham since 1981.

When Paul Bolus and his brother started the Lebanese Food Festival at St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church in Birmingham, Alabama, they wanted to invite the whole Birmingham community to share food with their church. “We started this because we wanted people to experience who we are and what we are about,” related Bolus. “If they don’t come in and see us, they won’t learn about us.”

In addition to bringing in newcomers and curious eaters, food festivals also work to tie congregations to each other. “This is related to the Greeks’ understanding of eating,” says Father Paul Costopoulos of Holy Trinity + Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral. “Eating for the Greeks is not only an event for satisfying physical need, but also for meeting a very real social need that we have for interaction with one another.”

Faith communities share their abundance when they serve a meal to visitors. Dr. Patricia Outlaw of Oak Grove African Methodist Episcopal explains, “There’s a connection between faith and food, because Jesus compels us to feed the hungry. He knows that in order for us to survive, we gotta eat.”

Food is also an extension of many faith practices. It is a tangible outpouring of love both in caring for others and in worship. Rabbi Stephen Slater of Temple Beth-El in Birmingham summarized, “I think that, actually, food in Judaism is much closer to – well— it’s sacred. We’re treating our tables as if they were an altar, is actually what we’re doing. . . It’s as if the food were being served in the temple.”

Listen to these faith leaders and congregation members speak of how they experience and express their faith through food.

TAGS: Adele Boohaker, David Ivey, Dr. Patricia Outlaw, Father Justin Rose, Father Paul Costopoulos, greek Foodways, Jessica Goldstein, Lebanese Foodways, Lucy Heidorn, Norma Ajlouny, Paul Bolus, Rabbi Stephen Slater, religion, Shelia Grier, Sonthe Burge