ST. PAUL, Minn. — There are a couple of clues that the mobile kitchen parked every Thursday at lunchtime on Payne Avenue on St. Paul’s East Side this summer isn’t just another food truck.
First of all, the food — hot calzones — is free. And the person who drives the truck is a young woman in a clerical collar who likes to say, “Peace be with you.”
Her name is Margaret Kelly, a 33-year-old preacher’s kid, ex-French chef and former mental health case manager. She’s now a pastor, and the food truck is her church, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
It’s not a typical church, but Kelly isn’t your typical Lutheran pastor. She’s a gay woman who started her training at Luther Seminary in St. Paul at a time when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America didn’t allow gays in committed relationships to serve as clergy members.
“I was fairly confident that change was coming,” Kelly said. She was right. In 2009, the church voted to allow people in committed same-gender relationships to be ministers.
After seminary, Kelly, who also has a master’s degree in social work, worked for about three years for a nonprofit mental health agency. She was married in 2011 in a church wedding. She was ordained in 2012 and legally married to her wife, Eileen, last August, soon after same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota. That wedding was conducted by her father, a pastor in Bemidji.
“We made the front page of the Bemidji paper,” Kelly said.
Last year is also when she came up with the idea of a food-truck church. When she was a mental health case manager, Kelly found that people in poverty often lack access to healthy food, reliable transportation, meaningful work and meaningful community.
She thought that one solution could be a church on wheels that drives to where people are, offering free food and prayer to the poor, homeless and near-homeless. The people helping to serve the meals would be from the community that the truck is serving.
“Increased access to food that is cooked and served by those who need the increased access” is how Kelly describes it.
“We don’t simply want it to be a church making handouts,” said Kelly’s boss, the Rev. Paul Erickson, assistant to the bishop for evangelical mission in the ELCA’s St. Paul Area Synod. “We are all ministers to and with each other.”
To support the project, Kelly was able to get grant money from the national church as well as local churches such as St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi.
St. Andrew’s also was able to put Kelly in touch with Peter Bolstorff, a Stillwater management consultant, who with his wife, Cary, started an organization called Mobile Action Ministries that owns a food truck serving the needy in the east-metro area.