Years ago, Ali Lufkin, the priest at St. George Episcopal Church, got a phone call. A man eating a meal at the church, who had been sober for eight days, had just received a cancer diagnosis. Lufkin was asked to stop by the church to help de-escalate the situation.
The priest arrived at St. George to find the man sitting with a group of others sharing food and conversation. “They had taken him under their wing and become a loving pastoral presence in a way I never could have done,” Lufkin said.
This was one of many instances when Lufkin showed up to St. George to find that others had already worked together to fix or improve a challenging circumstance.
It is this sense of community and creative problem solving that drew Lufkin to St. George over 20 years ago. And it is what she will miss most when she moves to Oregon next month to preside over two small churches on the Pacific coast with her husband George.
The Lufkins first came upon Leadville during a cross-country road trip in 1997. They fell in love with the town, as well as St. George, and moved to Cloud City just a year later to raise their children and serve as lay leaders at the Episcopal church. Ali and George were later ordained, taking on the role of co-priests in 2005.
“We each gravitated towards the places where we were stronger,” Lufkin said of sharing the role with her husband. “There was no formula for how to be co-priests, it was more about how we explore the mysteries of God and each other and life.”
In the years before the Lufkins moved to Leadville, St. George faced a threat of closing due to poor attendance. The diocese asked the church to find its relevance in the community — a reason to exist beyond worship. The church looked to food.
“Community Meals started, in part, because we needed to be connected to our community to survive,” Lufkin explained. “We were the have-nots and our doors were going to close unless we found a community connection that made St. George meaningful.”
In the early days of the church’s food sharing, staff and volunteers would rescue food from Safeway and local restaurants that was headed to the landfill. The Lufkins and others would then create colorful, hot meals out of bruised vegetables and fruit, food that was nourishing despite its imperfect appearance.
Twenty years later, Community Meals is now the center of food access in Lake County. The church has offered near daily access to food throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: grab and go lunches, grocery boxes, a walk-in food pantry and hot meals.
Community Meals is also now intertwined with a number of other local organizations, such as Cloud City Conservation Center and the Lake County Food Access Coalition, who collaborate to ensure that no community member goes without wholesome food. The financial support behind the church’s food sharing has also expanded to include local and regional foundations and businesses such as Lake County Community Fund, El Pomar Foundation and Climax Molybdenum.
Lufkin said it has been immensely fulfilling to watch St. George rise to the occasion to meet the needs of locals throughout the pandemic. “I have so much respect for the creative element of St. George that says ‘where is the abundance, where is the need, and how can we play with that.’”
Lufkin expects the church to move onto its next chapter, with a new priest, in the same spirit of pragmatic creativity. And she knows the church’s traditions of food sharing, bicultural exchange and collaboration will continue for years to come.
Thanksgiving will serve as Lufkin’s last day at St. George. She plans to set up a tent and a heater outside the church to greet and say goodbye to members of the church and those involved in Community Meals at a six foot distance.