Uplifting souls on the go

Power Lunch offers a recharge with scripture, song, sandwich

November 29, 2006|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

The workers, mostly professionals, start entering the room just before noon on Thursdays, pick up a sandwich and a handout and take a seat.

Food isn't the draw here - God is. This is the Power Lunch, where some downtown Baltimore workers say they find sustenance for their souls as well as their minds and bodies. They spend an hour at the high-energy service lifting their hands to the heavens in praise. They leave with brown-bag lunches and, they say, a little bit of peace.

Power Lunch Baltimore's host, the Rev. Nathan M. "Nate" Butler Sr., said the nondenominational Christian ministry's music, preaching and teaching attract people whose schedules prevent them from attending midweek services at their home churches.

"My thinking is, everything is in the workplace," he said, comparing the need for downtown religious services to such common amenities as dry-cleaners and pharmacies. "That's one of the ideas behind the worship in the workplace - bring it to where the people are."

That's why Sina McDuffie said she looks forward to Power Lunch every week. After a recent move to York, Pa., the Internal Revenue Service employee said she usually can't make it to Wednesday night Bible study nor Friday night services at her church, the Church of God Gethsemane Spiritual Temple.

"I'm lacking my weekly spiritual nutrition," said McDuffie, 46, who was moved to tears at a recent Thursday service. She said the lunchtime sessions allow her to release pent-up frustration. "It's like stress relief for me. ... It's better than popping a pill," she said.

Catherine Riggs said she can't attend activities during the week at Israel Baptist Church because she is studying business management at Potomac College on top of her full-time job. "I'm already stretched, so the Power Lunch is an alternative to fulfill that spiritual part as well," said the Northwest Baltimore resident.

Barbara Sendeck, 60, visited Power Lunch for the first time this month and said she plans to return. "Even though I didn't know the songs they were singing, they were so uplifting, you just felt good," she said.

She would like to attend daily Mass at St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Curtis Bay, but it starts at 7:30 a.m. - the same time she is supposed to start work at Baltimore HealthCare Access.

Other churches and institutions downtown and elsewhere also offer midday opportunities for prayer or Bible study. For example, since 2003 New Unity Church Ministries at Cathedral and Franklin streets has held a Wednesday "noonday hour of power" service and bag lunch from noon to 1 p.m., said the Rev. Johnny N. Golden Sr.

About 22 percent of adults surveyed by the Barna Group last year said they engage in spiritual encounters with groups of people while in their place of work or play.

But Butler said Power Lunch's less-traditional venue is a "barrier breaker" for people uncomfortable entering a church. The group meets in what was once the lobby of a former bank at Charles and Baltimore streets. The building is now the headquarters of evangelical Christian aid organization World Relief.

Worship usually includes gospel music by contemporary musicians, scripture readings and sermons on lessons that apply to the workplace, Butler said. Everyone, including the musicians, volunteers their time, he said, but donations from collections cover the cost of renting space as well as the cost of lunches - a turkey or peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, chips and gummy bears.

The Rev. Matthew L. Watley, the executive minister of Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Glenn Dale, created Power Lunch in Washington based on a lunchtime service offered at the New Jersey church of his father, the Rev. William D. Watley, said Shonda Gladden, who is studying for the ministry and helped establish that service and the one in Baltimore.

Power Lunch Washington met for the first time at the Old Post Office Annex in Washington, the day before Sept. 11, 2001, Gladden said. Hundreds of people now attend the Wednesday worship held in a movie theater at Union Station, Gladden said.

She said she sang gospel music in Metro stations and on street corners to spread the word when Power Lunch Baltimore started a year ago. Additional Power Lunches also meet in Suitland in Prince George's County; Columbia, S.C.; and Columbus, Ohio. Butler said he would like to add a lunch meeting for those whose breaks fall between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

On a recent Thursday in Baltimore, more than 70 people - mainly women in business wear - braved the rain to spend their lunch break dancing and singing in worship. Butler said he relies on technology such as PowerPoint presentation software to guide people through the day's lesson.

A large digital clock in the back of the room - once the lobby of the former bank building - helps speakers and musicians stick to the strict time frame. The service ends at 12:45 p.m. so people can return to their jobs.

Timing was a problem for McDuffie when she attended services at other churches in the past. She felt like she got back to her office too late.

She and other people say the hour away makes a real difference for them.

"You'd be surprised how you can accomplish things when you're at peace," said Bruce E. Harlee, 46, a volunteer musician who has attended for three months.

"It keeps God on my mind," he said, "even during the workday."

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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