Jeff Caylor had one concern the first time Everett Hills Baptist Church opened its doors to its new community ministry, Hospitality on the Hill: What if nobody comes?

“I was scared to death,” he recalled, then grinned. “We had 27.”

This was on April 1, and the ministry continued to grow each week as the news spread that another church in Maryville was offering a free meal, fellowship and prayer to anyone who wishes to come. Only a few weeks later, the church and its membership welcomed around 90 people.

Caylor said they don’t know from one week to the next how many will attend, and that doesn’t matter. It’s not about the numbers; it’s about service. If food remains after everyone eats their fill, the church provides go boxes — and if they look like they’ll run short, Caylor said, “We’ll order 10 pizzas if we need to.”

Nobody will go away hungry in either body or soul. Guests at the table range from young mothers with several children to older couples and individuals, all of whom are thankful for the food and fellowship.

Georgia Richey is one of the guests who attended the most recent meal.

“Some of us are senior citizens on fixed incomes, and $15 in food stamps doesn’t go very far,” she said. “I get out to eat and also to meet people at the same time, people like myself who have very little. It serves us when we don’t have food at home, or have very little. On a fixed income, you can’t do but so much. … This church helps out any way it can, and I appreciate what they do. They’ve been kind to me ever since I’ve been coming here. I enjoy coming.”

A heart for the hungry

Caylor and his wife, Terri, coordinate the ministry, which is open from 5:30-6:30 p.m. each Monday in the church fellowship hall, 401 S. Everett High Road, Maryville. Caylor originally had the idea for the ministry before he retired from the 911 Center in 2018. “About six months to a year before I retired, I really prayed about it. I’ve always served the community, and I’ve always had a heart for the hungry, people who have a hard time feeding their family, feeding themselves,” he said. “It’s always been a burden on my heart and I naturally defaulted to that type of ministry. After I had some discussions with my pastor, Doug Hayes, about it, we thought this would be a good ministry to try.”

Caylor is quick to point out that there would be no Hospitality on the Hill without the wholehearted support of the entire church.

“It was my idea, but it’s a huge group effort.” Four teams alternate responsibility for the meals although some volunteers come every week because they enjoy the time so much. The church youth are involved, as well, spending one night each month serving and cleaning up after the meal.

Many of the main dishes are prepared by church members.

“To give you an idea, a few weeks ago, we had beans and cornbread,” Caylor said. “We fixed 16 pounds of dry beans. Four ladies in our church fixed 16 pounds of beans and brought them. So even if the people who aren’t present on Monday night, there are a lot of people who are participating.”

Guests who come to the church find out about Hospitality on the Hill through word of mouth, flyers posted at local food pantries and other places, and through the announcement on the church marquee.

“We’re trying to reach out and minister to the community, meeting one of people’s most basic needs, providing them a meal,” Caylor said. “We like to just get together and eat and fellowship together.

“If you’ve got a family of five, and both parents are working, it can still be a challenge in today’s world to get that family fed seven nights a week. There are other churches in the community that are doing a great job with their meal ministries, too — First United Methodist in Maryville and New Providence Presbyterian — and we strategically picked a night other than those.”

More than a meal

This is the fourth month of Hospitality on the Hill, and donations have supplied all the needs thus far although the church will cover any expenses otherwise.

“A lot of people in our church have donated and we’ve managed to get some corporate sponsors,” Caylor said, including a $300 quarterly contribution from Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken and paper goods provided through the employees of Alter’d State. “The pastor tells me constantly, ‘You realize God’s in your ministry, right?’ It’s amazing how everything has fallen into place.”

The menu is simple and filling and varies from week to week. On Monday, barbecue sandwiches, baked beans, coleslaw and chips were served along with desserts.

Guests are served more than a meal. Prayer Coordinator Jim Allen, one of the volunteers in attendance each week, distributes prayer sheets for people to fill out their requests. Everything is confidential, and volunteers pray for each need during the week. The people may leave their contact information if they desire.

Allen said, “When we pray for them, we initial and date the sheet for when we pray. This is for specific needs. … Some of these are confidential, and I don’t share those with anyone else. I want them to know they can come to us and trust us.”

The church also offers an oil-change ministry at no charge in conjunction with the meal ministry under the leadership of Daniel Prather. Those in need are asked to contact the church for information.

In addition, some of the church members who are nurses provide wellness checks the first Monday of each month, checking blood pressure, blood sugar, etc.

The church plans to offer the Monday ministry each week. In case of inclement weather, the Maryville City Schools schedule will be followed.

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