One Table: A Theology of Nourishment

Appetizers: Historic Information

“Food matters,” as Dr. Jennifer Ayres, author of the book Good Food: Grounded Practical Theology wrote.[1] Yet we live in a society where adequate, nourishing food is not equitably available to all. Without enough good food, mental, physical and emotional health can decline, stealing away a person’s sense of overall well-being. The role that food plays in well-being, or wholeness, can be explained in a theology of Nourishment [2] which incorporates food and fellowship as contributors to spiritual, physical and emotional wholeness.

In Fulton County, New York where I serve as the Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, the church has been addressing food injustice in our local city of Johnstown and surrounding area through our Food Pantry and NOAH Sunday meal programs. (NOAH is an acronym for Needy Or Alone and Hungry.) In 2023, these two programs served nearly 60,000 meals to our neighbors (see 2023 Infographic).

2023 Infographic

The 2023 total represents an increase of 470% in just three years. Currently an estimated one in four adults in Fulton County, NY self-reports as food insecure, a number that has doubled in the past five years.[3]

Started in 1993, the Pantry and NOAH operated out of the St. John’s basement, a space which is inaccessible to those who are disabled, and which has an aging infrastructure, including a history of flooding which is a health risk and which sometimes prevents us from serving our neighbors.

Bread and Salad: One Church Street

St. John’s Church wanted something better for our neighbors. With the growing rate of food insecurity, and our desire to serve our neighbors in an accessible, dignified and safe space, the church purchased a former YMCA on an adjacent street corner in 2013. This provided us with 18,000 square feet of space to house offices and our food justice programming.

Now called One Church Street (OCS) for both theological and practical reasons,[4] active fundraising for renovations began in 2021. All food justice programs, including the Pantry, NOAH, and a new Food Is Medicine program will be housed in the building and they are now referred to as OCS programs.

St. John’s Church and One Church Street

All of this comes with a $3.2 million price tag, however, and fundraising is ongoing. Currently, with $2.2 million raised, the first floor, which includes the Pantry, will open in mid-June 2024. More remains to be done including the installation of a commercial kitchen and dining room on the second floor, and we continue to raise the final $1 million needed to complete this project.

Heartburn: The Challenge

While our Pantry and NOAH programs have more than 100 active volunteers, and OCS has 341 donors who have contributed to our capital campaign, I became aware that business owners and residents of Johnstown had little awareness of food justice issues in our area. Even with a very active OCS social media presence, few people seemed to know about our food justice programs.  In other words, some of our community members are undernourished in their understanding about food insecurity among their neighbors.

The question: How could we raise the profile of OCS in order to help people learn, connect and commit to being part of the solution to alleviate food insecurity and hunger through OCS programs and how could we share a theology of Nourishment with more people in our community? The answer was One Table.

Entrée: One Table, the Innovation

One Table, my innovation, is a dinner gathering modeled directly on our Sunday NOAH meal. We ate in the same basement space and used the same place settings and outdated kitchen facilities that are used on Sundays. 60 people were invited to fill 24 available spots for one of three different meals. 22 spots were filled by community members including organic farmers, business owners, program volunteers and local politicians. Our new mayor, who knew nothing about this $3 million project happening in her city, came to a meal.

One Table Meal, St. John’s Basement, September 2023


One Table guests standing in the new Dining Room area at OCS  September 2023 (under construction)

Each dinner followed this format:

  • Short grace (non-faith specific)
  • Breaking bread and sharing stories (community building)
  • Dinner which included learning and conversation about nourishment (education)
  • Dessert, which was a movable feast and included a tour of our new facility (vision)

Dessert:  Results and Conclusions

Since most of the participants did not know one another, all were asked to contribute a story about a memorable meal to become acquainted. They were also asked to help define the word ‘nourish’. Their answers were wide-ranging.  The word ‘food’ appeared only once out of thirty descriptors. This underpins the expansive meaning of a theology of Nourishment which can be seen in some of the words chosen:

Enrich. Love. Dignity. Caring. Thrive. Growth. Spirituality.

After dinner, all participants toured OCS facilities and compared the difference between the inaccessible and ancient basement (187 years old) with the new bright facilities planned to house all OCS food justice programs. As people entered the dining room area on the second floor that will house NOAH, they were both surprised and delighted by the beauty of the space and by the accessibility provided by an elevator.

After the meal, participants were emailed a survey which asked them to choose two words from a short list that defined their One Table experience. 100% of those who attended responded.  (See E-Survey Chart)

Results of E-Survey, One Table, 2023

Community (68%) and awareness (36%) were the top two choices. This feedback, in addition to comments from participants,  verified that the goals of One Table were met, that we had raised awareness about hunger, brought people into our OCS project, and developed community connections.

One Table dinners embodied a theology of Nourishment by meeting all the established goals:  One Table guests learned, connected and committed. Two people volunteered for OCS soon after, and several people became donors.

Planning Our Next Meal: The Future

The One Table model is reminiscent of the Dinner Church movement[5] is flexible and is easily replicable.  Two additional meals based on the format have already been hosted. Brunch on a Saturday morning proved to be a better time for most working people to meet. Both the NOAH and Pantry volunteers were invited to program-specific meals[6] to learn about food insecurity, talk about program highlights, make suggestions and of course, tour the new facility.  The Pantry meal was particularly interesting because a professional facilitator was brought in to help guide the conversation and glean important information. The Chair of the OCS Steering Committee said that it was like watching a steam valve release as conversation and suggestions bubbled up at each table and within the context of group reporting.

George Simmel, a twentieth century sociologist wrote: “Eating together fosters community because everyone shares the need to eat.” Our human need for food transcends economic status, religious belief, age, ethnicity, gender or any other way we identify people groups, and can create unity and greater wholeness in completely disparate, and even desperate places.

OCS food justice programs are not simply meant to provide food for people who need it but ultimately to build a stronger, healthier community overall. The mission statement for OCS is simple but essential, and supports the wholeness of a theology of Nourishment for our community:

“Nourishing our neighbor in body, mind, and spirit.”

[1] Jennifer Ayres, Good Food: Grounded Practical Theology (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2013), 2.

[2] Note that this term does not occur in any research or scholarship I completed and encompasses an expansive understanding of the theology of food or eating or table fellowship, incorporating and including food justice programming, such as pantries and meal programs which are often left out of food and theology conversations.

[3] New York State Dept. of Health Self-Reported Food Insecurity Among New York State Adults by County, IFA # 2023-12, (December 2023).

[4] Theologically we want to send a message that we welcome all faith traditions to think of the building as their own. Practically it is the physical address of the building on Church Street.

[5] For a good review of Dinner Church, see Kendall Vanderslice’s book “We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God”

[6] Neither program had ever had a group meeting in their thirty-year history, so this was truly groundbreaking and long overdue.

Additional Resources:

For One Church Street updates, visit our website and FB Page:


Excellent books about food and faith, food and fellowship and the theology of food:

“Food and Faith: a Theology of Eating: by Norman Wirzba



“We Will Feast: We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God” by Kendall Vanderslice.
Also see her online site: “Edible Theology”


“The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist” by the Rev. Dr. Angel Méndez-Montoya

Posted in Church Leadership and Community Witness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a reply

About Laurie Garramone

The Very Rev. Laurie M. Garramone has served as Rector of St. John’s Church in Johnstown, New York for 14 years, and is lead visionary for One Church Street (OCS), a $3.2 million para-church Nutrition Hub and Community Resource in Johnstown under construction which includes the NOAH (Needy Or Alone and Hungry) Free Sunday Dinner, the Interfaith Food Pantry and the Food Is Medicine Program. She is a past member of the Diocesan Council, Disciplinary Board and Financial Task Force, is a current Trustee of the Diocese, Dean of the Western Mohawk Deanery and served as a Delegate to the National Convention in 2022. She will serve again in Louisville, KY 2024, and is a member of the Evangelism and Future Church Committee for the Episcopal Church. She co-leads the hilarious Comedy Hour Bible Study with her husband, the Rev. Alistair Morrison, and is the (very) blessed mother of Alex Rohr, who lives in California, and Christian Rohr, who passed away in 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *