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Roxane B. Salonen, SheSays contributor, Published February 08 2013

A higher power lunch: Business leaders share faith, food at meetings

IF YOU GO

What: Power Lunch, nondenominational faith-based gathering for business leaders and other individuals of influence

When: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., second Thursday of each month (next gathering: Feb.14)

Where: Bethel Church of Fargo, 2702 30th Ave. S.

Info: Free; register with Jodi Seidel at jodiseidel@bethelfc.com or just show up

ONLINE: www.bethelfc.com/powerlunch

FARGO – A couple years ago, the Rev. Matthew St. John began praying on how to reach members of the business community hungry for an infusion of faith to bring into their workplaces and personal lives.

About the same time, two members of his congregation, Bethel Church of Fargo, had been having similar conversations with God.

When the three got together and realized they’d all been of the same mind, they “stared at each other in amazement,” according to St. John.

By year’s end, in December 2009, Power Lunch was born.

The monthly gathering brings together, on average, 60 participants from varying Christian denominations – about 25 different churches are represented – for a no-charge lunch, networking opportunities and a 15-minute, Scripture-based devotional.

D.J. Colter, of Fargo, was one of the three who helped brainstorm Power Lunch, and remains involved through leading the meetings.

“The goal with Power Lunch, in the beginning anyway, was this idea of providing a place where people could come and be honest, and in the process, develop some real friendships with people throughout the faith community,” Colter said.

Both men concede that while they helped launch the project, it wouldn’t have flourished without the organizational and outreach efforts of Jodi Seidel, St. John’s administrative assistant.

“My role really was and still is to support Pastor Matthew,” Seidel said, “but with that, I became the person who communicates with those who attend, and I guess the glue between D.J., who’s super busy, and Pastor Matthew, who’s super busy, and I also connect with Robert Jones, the chef who provides the meals.”

Tracy Holwagner, Fargo, learned about Power Lunch through an acquaintance a couple years ago after discussing ways to build relationships with their businesses. Power Lunch exceeded her expectations, she said, adding that she attends whenever possible.

“For small businesses or business owners it’s networking, but above that, there’s a really good lesson in there – a very rich lesson – along with fellowship and good food, of course.”

Holwagner said there’s a tendency for people of faith to see their work and personal lives as separate, though combining the two is crucial.

According to St. John, merging those two worlds is the whole idea.

“If my life is merely a reflection of what I do at work, then I’m pretty reductionistic,” he said. “Power Lunch gives us a platform to rise above that, and if we’re able to do that, then we’re now reaching for something that’s pretty transcendent.”

Vincent Dicks, who attends Living Hope Baptist Church in West Fargo, called the Power Lunch devotional “a great shot in the arm, especially if you’ve had a bad week.”

It also helps balance out what he referred to as “compassion overload.”

“Many of us are leaders in our churches, and we don’t often have the opportunity to set our feet in the Word, because we’re the ones involved in doing everything from being ushers to dealing with plugged toilets,” he continued. “Power Lunch is a place to get your batteries recharged.”

Some of the connections he’s made seem to have been divinely-led, particularly when he, a military outreach specialist, met up with participant Vicky Matson, a Fargo Realtor needing help finding veterans services for someone in her life who was struggling.

“You don’t go there to get business, but God rewards you coming around from the back side when you share with other people,” Matson said.

As the main organizer and “floater” of the event, Seidel has observed the reactions of those who attend.

“When people come in, I sense almost like this deep breath, as in, ‘OK, I’m here, I can eat and sit down and have a conversation,’ ” she said.

From time to time, personal testimonies are offered by participants who feel called to share. St. John said these moments of people standing before a crowd and sharing from the heart have provided some powerful opportunities for inviting others present to realize they are not alone.

This growing and bonding of the community, which strives not to be exclusive but always welcoming, according to St. John, is one of the ways Power Lunch has evolved into something more than what it started as.

“The kinds of stories we’ve heard have a tendency to disarm folks,” St. John said. “People are starving to be with people who are real and not fake, and this environment gives them permission to be real.”

Colter recently discovered the true power of Power Lunch on a personal level when his 33-year-old brother died unexpectedly. After asking for prayers from the group, he met up with another participant who’d also lost a brother.

“The last three months have been some of the toughest of my life. To lose a best friend, a business partner, your one and only brother,” he said. “When you go through a time like this in your life, you automatically have a different perspective, you grasp onto new things.”

And you find hope and healing in community.

“I know people from Power Lunch have been praying for me and all of my family, and I can’t put into words how it feels to have that bond of people who care,” he said.

Colter also appreciates the group’s outreach efforts, like when Power Lunch participants volunteered to cover nearly a whole day of bell-ringing for the Salvation Army a couple Christmases ago.

“Power Lunch started with the concept of ‘gather, give and grow.’ But it’s evolving, and that’s the best part of any type of ministry – when God begins to shape it how he wants to.”