Pastor serves up food for thought at Chapel

Pastor Palmer Chinchen of The Grove in Chandler, Arizona, sets a table during Chapel at Global Credit Union Arena.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Centuries before students filled Lopes Way to pick up Chick-Fil-A and Subway, Jesus set up large tables to accommodate hungry people of all backgrounds.

This was his way of encouraging conversation and treasuring meaningful memories.

That was one of the themes delivered by Dr. Palmer Chinchen, pastor at The Grove in Chandler, Arizona, during Grand Canyon University's Monday Chapel at Global Credit Union Arena.

“Why was there so much about eating and food in the Gospels?” Chinchen asked students. “Because a meal is more than food. Because a meal can be like Him. A meal is an invitation into a friendship and into community. So Jesus did not come preaching an ideology, or even preaching a doctrine.

“He came talking about banquets and dinners and entertainers.”

Pastor Palmer Chinchen of The Grove in Chandler, Arizona, selects five students from the audience to sit at his table during Chapel at Global Credit Union Arena.

During his sermon, Chinchen set up a table to illustrate the importance of building camaraderie. He later placed chairs and mentioned how the Hebrews set up an extra chair to accommodate a spontaneous guest.

This resonated with Chinchen, who recalled recruiting a friend named Oliver from Liberia who earned a track scholarship at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

During Thanksgiving, Chinchen asked a friend if he could bring Oliver for dinner. After pausing, the host told Chinchen there wasn’t an extra chair for Oliver, who spent Thanksgiving at a local taco stand.

“I wish that I had gone with Oliver instead of staying with those people for Thanksgiving dinner,” Chinchen recalled. “(Dinner) just didn't taste very good.”

Jilly Freid and the Worship team sing in praise during Chapel.

Chinchen referenced Matthew 26, when Jesus served four cups with the Passover meal. The third cup was known as the blessing cup.

“When you share a cup, you share a blessing.”

Coca-Cola was served at the Chapel table to commemorate a time when a young and thirsty Chinchen was in Liberia with his family, walking through the forest until they reached a village and saw two Americans sitting in front of their home.

Chinchen was craving a Coca-Cola, only to learn he and his family were not allowed into the home, nor were they offered a refreshment.

Chinchen recalled his father tell him they were not invited because the hosts were “the kind of Christians who believe they should only have people in their homes who believe and agree with everything that they believe.”

Not all of Chinchen’s experiences were negative. He once took a group of Christian college students to Cuba for spring break against the advice of an administrator who griped about the lack of air conditioning in a Havana hotel, a serving of rice and beans for every meal, and needing a tetanus shot after stepping on a rusty nail.

Chinchen took nearly two dozen students, half of them basketball players who played on the Cuban Olympic team. A local church invited them for what was believed to be worship services, but the sanctuary was turned into a banquet hall with tables.

The Worship team’s Alex Ramirez gives praise during Chapel at Global Credit Union Arena on March 25, 2024.

“It looked like the United Nations that night,” Chinchen recalled after watching Cubans chat with his students.

“I thought, it looks like heaven here,” Chinchen said. “I thought this is what every church in the world should look like it. It really was a transforming moment for me.”

When Chinchen started building The Grove, they added a workshop auditorium designed to feel like a New Testament living room, filled with couches, bistro tables, and of course, coffee tables. “Because coffee is the connecting drink,” Chinchen said.

The dining room tables seat 16 people. “I saw that these tables here are a picture of what Jesus says our life should be like,” Chinchen said.

Lunch came early for the five GCU students selected to join Chinchen at the table. They were served lasagna as a tribute to a time where Chinchen, his wife Veronica and a van full of students arrived at a friend’s house in Africa after a 13-hour drive.

“There's like 10 of us at the table, and there’s one pan of lasagna,” Chinchen recalled.

When you share a cup, you share a blessing.

– Palmer Chinchen, lead pastor of The Grove

Fortunately, the mother of Chinchen’s friend already prepared another pan of lasagna.

“She's saying, 'I care about you because you're my son's friends,'” Chinchen said. “In fact, the food is even saying, ‘I love you.’ That's what food says.”

Chinchen anticipates many of the students who return home after spring semester finals will be treated to their favorite homecooked meal from their parents.

“They're going to cook your favorite meal because you're hungry? No,” Chinchen said. “Because they want to say to you, ‘I love you. And I'm glad you're here.’ So today we're serving lasagna.”

University Pastor Dr. Tim Griffin, working on short sleep after returning from Spokane, Washington, at 1:30 a.m., praised the GCU men’s basketball team for a successful season that concluded Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Pastor Palmer Chinchen of The Grove AZ speaks as he sits with five students at a dinner table on stage during Chapel at Global Credit Union Arena on March 25, 2024.

Griffin also praised the students, many of them members of the Havocs, for their support.

“They took over that Arena,” Griffin said. “You would have been very proud of them, the way they cheered and represented GCU.”

Jon Demeter, Pastor of Redemption Church in Peoria, will speak at the next Chapel at 11 a.m. April 1 at GCU Arena.

GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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