Oh, it isn’t all that big of a deal, really. There will be about 50 of us on a busy day, and there will be fried chicken or lasagna or, once, there was barbecue. They still talk about the barbeque, actually. There is a side dish and bread and dessert. While we want it to be nourishing, we aren’t going for maximum nutrition – this is comfort food for weary people. There is always a pitcher of lemonade on the table, or sometimes tea, and always plenty of ice water.
Sometimes people bring us food, and sometimes we end up buying it ourselves, and sometimes it’s a mixture of the two. The barbeque was a gift from a political rally that apparently didn’t have the turnout they expected, and once the expected meal fell through, and we threw together spaghetti and meat sauce from a can in about 30 minutes notice.
The doors are supposed to open at 11:30, but, being us, we will probably start a few minutes late. Meanwhile, inside, VJ and Cassie are scurrying around inside, making sure everything is set up, and one of us is rushing around trying to remember where we hid the forks last week. Someone will inevitably ask me where something is, and I will have no idea.
By now, someone will be knocking on the door, reminding us they are out there, and I just burned my hand on a hot dish and – ok, open the doors!
Folks file in and line up to get food – it’s mostly self-serve, but we have people who will hand out particularly prized items, like fried chicken or cake, to make sure everyone gets some. It doesn’t take all that long to get through the line, and everyone sits at the round tables in the basement of the church building we share with Trinity UMC.
For the next 45 minutes or so, there is a lot of laughter, of smack talking, of joking and ribbing. Most of the people eating are folks who come to the Community Engagement Center, but some folks from Trinity come by, and some of our volunteers, so it’s a delightful, eclectic group. There is a piano against the wall, and inevitably someone will sit down and start playing it – Prince’s Purple Rain is a fan favorite – and over in the corner, one of our regulars who lives outside is regaling two elderly ladies from the neighborhood with tales of his exploits.
After 10 minutes or so, I will interrupt and welcome everyone. If we have a special group with us that day, I will introduce them, and if it’s someone’s birthday we will call them out. We invite folks to join us for worship upstairs after the meal if they choose, and ask for volunteers to help us clean up after. Then I sit down, and people begin to get seconds.
We try to get plenty of food, because we believe in abundance around here, but the food is all gone in 30 minutes or so. Even so, after it’s gone people are still sitting at tables, laughing and story-telling, their bellies full of comfort food and happy for the chance to be in a safe place where they can linger.
Some people start cleaning up tables, and some begin to drift upstairs for church. Others drift outside to smoke, and some slip away without saying goodbye, peopled out with all the stimulation. I am envious of that last group, but I can’t rest yet, because I have to run upstairs to preach at our little worship service – but I will tell you what that is like another time.
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Every Wednesday at 11:30, we have a community lunch in the basement of the building we share with Trinity United Methodist Church, followed by a small worship service in the sanctuary upstairs.
If you would like to eat or worship with us, please come on by! If you want to help us by providing food, please email my coworker Laura and y’all can work out the details. If you want to make a donation to help us offset the cost of providing the meals, you can do that here.