Fried pork chops and low-country grits.
Grace and hope.
Scrambled eggs, sausage gravy and biscuits.
Communion and prayer.
Welcome to Real Hope in Christ Church in Crystal River, where Sunday morning worship begins with breakfast, where when you walk in the front door you might think you’re at a cafe.
The weekly Wednesday night “Not Your Mama’s Bible Study” also begins with dinner.
“We’re an eating church,” said Wes Smith, one of the church leaders. “One of the reasons we eat is because that’s a commonality between everyone — and we make sure the food is very, very good.”
As a church, they believe feeding the whole person, body and soul, is part of the church’s role in a community.
Although Real Hope isn’t new to the community, it has changed since it first started in 2015 as Bayside Church.
They became known as the church that helped — distributing still-usable linens from the local Holiday Inn Express to people who needed them.
They’ve paid for people’s bowling at Manatee Lanes, offered free haircuts and school supplies, fed first responders at Thanksgiving and went to local grocery stores and randomly paid for people’s groceries.
After meeting in a variety of locations, including Crystal River Primary School, the church moved into its current location at the corner of Norvell Bryant (County Road 486) and N. Donovan Avenue in Crystal River in May 2018 and spent the past year remodeling the former bridal boutique building.
The founding pastor, Taylor Robertson, had been called to another church in Houston in 2017, but the church continued.
Smith, who had been a Bayside member and deacon, also attended a large church in Clermont called Real Life Church on Saturday nights.
“My wife and I brought some friends (from Bayside) and on the way home we simultaneously had this idea: We could still have a church without a pastor.”
As Smith explained, the church still meets as a church each week, but the sermons, delivered by pastors from other churches, are viewed via a big video screen.
“This is a trend,” Smith said.
So, the church partnered with Real Life in Clermont and another church, Hope City, in Houston, for video sermons from their pastors; they also use sermons from other pastors.
“This way, we get the best messages from some of the best pastors in the world,” Smith said.
And the money they would pay a pastor, they use to feed people and for community outreach.
One of the ways the church wants to bless the community is through the free use of the building for a variety of events — fundraisers, car washes, pancake breakfasts, yard sales, auctions, meetings, etc.
At noon on Saturday, June 1, the community is invited to a dedication service — and a barbecue lunch, from pulled pork to ribs, smoked brisket, chicken, collard greens, beans, hoe cakes and much more.