The coronavirus forced unwanted changes on a Louisiana ministry known for providing a safe space for meals and conversation, but Okra Abbey found a new partner in a neighborhood church and is continuing to share the Gospel in the Pigeon Town neighborhood of New Orleans.

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Okra Abbey, New Orleans, LA
Okra Abbey
by Matt Curry
NEW ORLEANS – Though the pandemic forced changes this year upon the community garden/sacred space known as Okra Abbey, a new partnership helps the unusual ministry produce bushels of friendship and faith.
The Abbey, a mission of the Presbytery of South Louisiana and a New Worshipping Community of the PC(USA), provides food and sanctuary for residents of the Pigeon Town neighborhood of New Orleans. Like churches across the vast, four-state Synod of the Sun, the shutdown prompted by the coronavirus brought sudden, unexpected challenges to the Abbey’s ministries.
Particularly impacted was the Abbey’s vital “Grace & Greens” outreach, a community meal held every Wednesday in which neighbors gather around a table for sacred stories, food and fellowship.
Suddenly, the sit-down meal was no longer an option. Meanwhile, due to economic pressures, a local restaurant that donated food for the event to augment the Abbey’s fresh vegetables could no longer help, said the Rev. Hannah Quick, organizing pastor and executive director.
Quick turned to Jefferson Presbyterian Church, a nearby, can-do congregation of 41 people that also serves as a distribution location for the Second Harvest food pantry. The church now provides its kitchen for the Abbey to cook its own weekly meals and donates pantry items.
“It’s really a cool way to collaborate with one another,” Quick said.

Loretta Credo, a session member at Jefferson, said the church was glad to help the Abbey, which she said is doing a lot of good in the neighborhood. Jefferson, which has been without fulltime pastoral leadership for 20 years, has a history of finding creative ways to reach out to its community.
“It doesn’t cost us a penny to say, ‘Come use our kitchen, come use our pantry,’” Credo said. “All we did is say, ‘We’ve got a kitchen, you’re welcome to use it, we’ve got food, you’re welcome to use it.’ Jesus never said, ‘Wait til you get a minister.’”
Amelie Thompson first visited the Abbey shortly after it opened three years ago to have a meal and listen to opera singers. She kept coming back, and now she hands out meals-to-go, which has replaced Grace & Greens’ sit-down format. Thompson and Quick both deeply miss being able to spend time at table with neighborhood friends.
“When I first started going, I was very much out of my comfort zone, but I liked it,” Thompson said. “I keep going. I want to try to get to know people better – to have an opportunity to know all types of people better, rather than the people I’m used to knowing. I wish we could all get together again.”
For now, long conversations have been replaced by eye contact and a brief hello. Despite the modifications, Grace & Greens continues to provide 40-50 meals per week. The Abbey’s “Peas and Love” programs, which provides fresh produce to the homebound through deliveries and pickups, reaches as many as 31 families a week.
Quick leaves the produce on front steps, lamenting the lost opportunity to come inside to talk. But there have been unexpected gifts along the way: meaningful conversations through a screen door, someone passing by the Abbey and stopping to chat over the fence.
“It’s happening like it used to,” Quick said, “but with more space between us.”
In the heat of late summer, the harvest began to wind down. In early September, eggplant and peppers were still growing, and the greens were beginning to bounce back.
The okra, a Southern staple, was about done.
Not so for Okra Abbey, which continues to partner with others to produce a rich bounty of love.

The Rev. Matt Curry is in search of Good News from ministries throughout the Synod of the Sun that are making connections with their congregations and communities. Do you have an idea to share? Send Matt an email at [email protected]