Connecting to young adults is a problem for churches across the land. Brenda Timpson, minister at College Hill United Church in Belleville, Ontario, may have found the answer: invite them to a cooking class.

“Everybody has to eat,” says Timpson. “These classes have proven to be very successful in reaching an age group that is traditionally very difficult for churches to reach out to.”

Two young people learn to prepare a healthy green salad.
Class members learn how to use fresh, healthy food to make meals, such as this salad.
Brenda Timpson

Every Wednesday, a group of young adults, ages 18 to 25, gather in the church kitchen to laugh, to talk, and to make a meal together. “At our cooking classes, we make meals that are fast, delicious and economical,” she said, “using staples they may not be familiar with.”

For some it is an introduction to cooking from scratch, using healthy ingredients instead of processed foods. “Because we do it all together, it is healthier spiritually and socially also,” Timpson said.

Most of the participants are females encountering financial challenges, so they are grateful for the free cooking classes and meals, not to mention the opportunity to socialize.

A cooking class at College Street United Church.
Cooking class it is an introduction to cooking from scratch for some participants.
Brenda Timpson

“After we finish cooking, we feast,” said Timpson. “As they eat, they talk and talk and talk.”

She finds this socialization very satisfying, with all conversations kept confidential. “There are a lot of fascinating conversations that go on with this age group,” she says. “Being a minister, this provides a rich opportunity for outreach, and gives me a chance to participate in the things that they are concerned about.”

Formal religious talk and ceremony is kept to a minimum, though every meal starts with group members shouting “Thank you, God,” as a form of grace. Over dinner, conversations flow freely, touching on any “challenges and celebrations they have in their lives,” she says.

Because of the cooking classes, some class members have become curious about College Hill and what else it offers. Three have joined the church as members, and are taking part in its council and fundraising committee.

A group of seniors sitting at tables, socializing.
Every week, up to 300 seniors come to College Hill United to play games such as euchre.
Betty Stine

“Personally I find it very, very satisfying,” Timpson said. “I am able to see how these young adults are benefitting from a program that they find a lot of fun.”

To help sustain these classes, the church has applied for a grant from Embracing the Spirit. Some of the food for the classes is provided through the Community Garden Project at a local foodbank, where she hopes that some of the young adults in her class will start volunteering by the spring.

“If we can give back to them with volunteer work, we all win,” she says. “The young adults can learn more about where their food is coming from, and the food bank gets the volunteer help it needs.”

She is also looking into joining the Good Food Box Program, run by the Community Development Council of Quinte.

Another important form of ministry for College Hill United is outreach to area seniors. Four to five days every week, outside of Sundays, up to 300 seniors from the community come to the church for various social activities such as quilting, euchre, bid-euchre, bingo, dominoes, movies, and more.

 “They are real social afternoons or evenings,” said Timpson. “People can come and sit and relax for three to four hours. It’s the highlight of the week for many of them. And they bring food, lots of food.”

The seniors outreach is supported and staffed by volunteers from the church, with Timpson popping in when she can. The church has applied to Embracing the Spirit for a $5,000 Innovation Grant, which Timpson hopes will allow her to become more involved in the senior ministry.

 “The important thing is to sense what the needs of the community are first,” she says. ``The ministry at College Hill United is responding to these needs. We see where God is already working, and then ask how we can get on board. In this community there was a void when it came to reaching out to young adults and seniors.”

For more information about programs at College Hill United, email collegehillunitedchurch [at] (Brenda Timpson).

—Paul Russell is Communications Coordinator with the Office of the Moderator and General Secretary.

New and diverse approaches to ministry are constantly cropping up across The United Church of Canada, and Embracing the Spirit wants to hear about them. If you are involved with a group that has found an innovative way to approach church, let us know, by filling in the Tell Us Your Story form, found at the bottom of the Spur Innovation page.