For several years, Saint Isidore Episcopal Church has found its home wherever it could, growing its community in homes, gyms, even Taco Bells. Now, while the roving spirit of the church will remain, it will finally have a place to bring those communities together when it opens The Harvest Kitchen in Spring.
When the vision has been fully realized, the kitchen will be so much more than that. Rev. Sean Steele and executive director of the kitchen, Jeremy Hall, have big plans for the space.
The heart of the space will be a commercial kitchen that will serve both free meals and for-purchase to-go meals, service a cafe in the front of the building, host cooking classes and up-and-coming entrepreneurs who need a commercial kitchen to sell their wares, and whatever else the members of the community can come up with. But the dream encompasses so much more.
Room to grow
One of the big selling points of the space, a former Transtar AC supply store, is the giant warehouse in the back of the building. The kitchen will be extended into this space while still leaving room for the church’s food truck to park inside. Full-sized bathrooms will be built, including showers, right next to what will be transformed into a gym space. But there’s still more space left that Steele and Hall imagine could be used for hosting events, building a conference room, and possibly preaching.
As a church untied to a building, Saint Isidore is itself an alter on wheels. And that’s exactly what it will have at the new space. While Steele said he wants all of the different communities and programs that the church has built and grown over the last few years to continue their individual progress, he hopes to use the kitchen as a gathering space to pull them together as a larger, more diverse community. When the cafe closes, the church will be set up, altar on wheels and all.
“We are an Episcopal church, we are an official mission of the Diocese of Texas,” Steele said. “We just don’t have a building…Our values are offensive generosity, creating experiences around the table that feed the body and nourish the soul and transform the person.”
About three years ago, Steele was working at Trinity Episcopal Church in The Woodlands when he and members of that community decided to take everything they loved about that traditional church, but innovate it in a new way.
“A model was developed about how we could be church that was going to be small and specifically engaging populations that, for whatever reason, feel uncomfortable going to a traditional church setting,” Steele said. “So, it wasn’t about where we gathered, it was about how we gathered that mattered.”
Now, Saint Isidore is the umbrella for about seven different communities: three house churches, pub theology, Taco Church, Youth Church, and Warrior Church (a traditional liturgy specifically for people who have trauma or are in recovery). Warrior Church meets at a gym to train and pray together. But, once the new space is finished, Warrior Church will move into the gym space.
The idea for a kitchen and pantry space didn’t sprout from nowhere. Back in 2017, the Saint Isidore community raised money to launch the Abundant Harvest Food Truck to help deliver free meals, cater events, and offer an opportunity for the community to give back by volunteering their time and labor to keep the food truck staffed. For every catered meal that is bought, one meal is given away for free. For the last two years the church has used the food truck as way to gather people together over a meal. Now, it’s time to take it to the next level.
Several of the programs that the church runs, including a day of free laundry and haircuts each month, is net negative when it comes to funding. Spiritually fulfilling but doesn’t help the church make money. So, in order to sustain the work the church was doing, it was time to think bigger. It was time to think about social enterprise.
“The idea is, can you actually create a business that is selling things, generating money and income, and that income is actually going to subsidize all the free things that you’re doing,” Steele said. “So, kind of like what the food truck is doing with the catering.”
The church was given a two-year, $300,000 proof-of-concept grant from the Great Commission Foundation of The Episcopal Diocese of Texas to explore what this space could provide to the church. Some of the money has already been used to pay rent for the space. While looking for a building it was important to Saint Isidore that it could be a lease to buy space. After two years, the church could take over the lease.
Finding a home
The 8,000 square foot building is larger than what Hall said they were initially looking for. But the large warehouse space in the back, the lease to buy option, the price, and the location fit what they needed.
“We looked at just about every piece of available commercial space in the greater Woodlands area,” Hall said. “We found things that were too expensive because they were retail space and they were on frontage road, or they were really nicely outfitted. We found things that were too small. And then we found things that just didn’t meet our requirements.”
The lease to buy was the deal-breaker. Although it’s a bit of a fixer-upper, they’ve been “Chip and Joanna Gaines-ing” the former AC Supply store, Hall explained.
Once a month Steele wants to pull together all of the different church communities that fall under the Saint Isidore umbrella for a meal and worship at the kitchen, moving aside the tables and chairs of the cafe to seat everyone.
“The whole world is a junior high lunchroom and we’re all looking for our seat at the lunchroom table,” Steele said. “We want it to feel like, when you come in, everybody has a seat.”
First step to that welcoming feeling is to take the bars off the windows.
“That doesn’t really say offensive generosity, does it? It’s just offensive,” Steele joked.
It is their hope that the Harvest Kitchen will be open and operational by the start of the new year.