PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP)–A banquet hall in downtown Pensacola, rather than a riverbank near Philippi, is the meeting place, but the purpose of “Lydia’s Lunch” is much the same as its biblical counterpart — offering women fellowship and spiritual nourishment.
Lydia’s Lunch was launched by First Ladies, a Woman’s Missionary Union-linked group at First Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla.
Three years ago, Pat Evans, who was serving as coordinator of First Ladies, set in motion a vision to meet the spiritual needs of women in the church and community.
“Our target group was businesswomen because we are a downtown church that would be in an accessible area,” Evans recounted.
“We thought, what better role model for career ladies than Lydia?” Lydia, whose story is found in Acts 16, had succeeded as a seller of purple dye, but even more significant than that was her faith in Christ.
After much prayer and a year of planning, the Pensacola church stepped out on faith and hosted the first “Lydia’s Lunch.” Letters of invitation were sent to area businesses, and church members spread the word through personal contacts.
“I went to a member of our church who happened to be the president of a local bank and asked him to encourage his female employees to attend,” Evans recounted. “He said he would do better than that; he would sponsor the first lunch by paying for the meal.”
While the church has the facilities to host the monthly luncheon, First Ladies wanted a neutral location where non-Christians would not feel threatened, thus a year’s contract was signed with a downtown banquet facility.
“We expected 50 women for the first luncheon. We had over 100. I remember having to stand in the entranceway because the room was so packed,” Evans recalled.
Evans believes Lydia’s Lunch is a wonderful outreach tool for the church.
“Even though people hurried in and out on that first lunch, and [with] the chaos that we felt, it was a fantastic and phenomenal beginning,” she said.
Evans is no longer the coordinator of First Ladies, but the vision she had three years ago is being carried on now by others who share the same desire for ministry. Members Marcia Howell, Linda Farrell and Joyce Lewis currently are key workers with the luncheon outreach.
Lydia’s Lunch is held the fourth Thursday of every month at the downtown Pensacola Civic Center, with a $5 charge at the door for the meal. Reservations are requested in advance, but walk-ins are welcome.
“We have guests fill out information cards so we can mail them a reminder for the next month’s luncheon,” Howell said.
Many different occupations are represented at the luncheons.
“Women come from all over. A secretary for a law firm has progressively brought her entire office and says that, as a result, a new atmosphere has been created among them at work,” Farrell said.
Lydia’s Lunch provides a catered meal, served buffet-style for the convenience of people arriving in shifts with a lunch-hour time restraint. Guest speakers or entertainers present a 20- to 30-minute program for the women as they eat.
“We have been blessed in the area of speakers. They usually come as a result of word of mouth. We just ask that they be a Christian and present the gospel through personal testimony or Scripture,” Farrell said.
Farrell said First Ladies have been blessed with generous donations specifically for Lydia’s Lunch, which helps keep the cost at $5.
“This was important to us, because we wanted to make this possible for anyone to participate who wanted to,” she said.
Evans also noted, “We do not have a copyright on the name. It just came from the heart and we don’t care who uses it just as long as people come to know Jesus as a result of it.”
Though Lydia’s Lunch was originally designed for businesswomen, all women are welcome.
“This is a wonderful avenue for Christian women in the workplace to bring non-Christians into a non-threatening environment. We try to keep it neutral by setting no denominational boundaries,” Howell said.
Gloria Crenshaw, a social worker who has attended the luncheon twice, said, “This is wonderful. The things that I hear here are very inspiring to me and enable me to share the same thoughts with families I work with on a daily basis. In my line of work I see a little of everything. This hour motivates me and gives me hope to carry on.”