Due to the high level of Covid-19 cases in Athens County we had to suspend our community dinners for several months. Now that the Covid numbers are down, our feeding ministry is once again in full swing. To use Covid emergency grant funds to best serve our community, we are now doing a second community dinner each month. Co-coordinator Judi Whitmore and I plan the menu together, pick up the groceries and start preparing the food. Celeste and Jim Parsons, Andrea Wright, Amy Abercrombie, and Bill Bales round out the team who come help prepare, serve, and clean up for the dinners.
We have been doing strictly carry out meals during the pandemic and continue to hand out 90-125 meals at each dinner. Our meals are usually evening meals (5:00-6:00 pm), however we are planning to do a lunch type handout at our June 8th meal at the city park, which is adjacent to the city swimming pool. We will do a sack lunch to reach the youth who frequent the city pool and park since the school lunch program will have concluded for the year. We are pleased with the turn out we continue to have.
Epiphany’s feeding ministry began many years ago to help provide nutritious and delicious meals for neighbors in Nelsonville who are homeless or below the poverty line. Everyone in the community is welcome. Parishioners feel that they are obeying Christ’s call to “Feed my sheep”, both physically and spiritually.
Celeste Parsons, church treasurer and member of the outreach ministry, reflects on a recent experience from an April community dinner, where their feeding ministry became food for the soul:
“You Give Them Something to Eat“
It was half an hour after we served the first carryout meal of our twice-monthly free community dinner, and the half-dozen church members who had frantically dished soup beans with ham, salad, cornbread, and canned pears into carryout containers through the initial surge of clients were sitting down enjoying a respite in demand. From out on the sidewalk, Bill Bales, our deacon, and the greeter for the dinner, called something down the stairs, and I got up to see what was needed.
“This young man wants to go into the church and pray,” Bill said. “Bring him a mask, please.”
I found our supply of one-use masks, brought one out, and escorted a slender, neatly-bearded man who appeared to be in his late twenties up to the church, leaving him there alone.
After several minutes, hearing some sounds of movement upstairs, I tiptoed up the stairs, finding that the man had walked up near the altar. Hearing me, he went over into one of the choir pews, picked up a prayer book, and sat down. I went back downstairs. Another few minutes passed, and there was still no word or sign from our visitor. The church had been robbed before, and although I knew that we left no money in the sanctuary, I was still a little anxious. I went back upstairs and down the aisle to where the young man was sitting quietly.
“Are you looking for some particular kind of prayer?” I asked, motioning to the prayer book.
“I want to find a way to get back with my family, and get myself fixed up,” he replied. “Is there a minister here?”
“The man who met you at the door is our deacon, but he has a hard time getting up and down stairs. I lead some of the worship services here–would you like me to find any special kind of prayer?”
I sat down six feet away from him, took a prayer book, and told him there was a prayer I liked to use when I led services.” I read “For a Person in Trouble or Bereavement” (p. 831 BCP), pausing and inviting him to name anyone specific he wished to pray for. When I finished, he said, “Could you read that again and explain it to me? I was listening, but I lost track in the middle.”
So I repeated the prayer, modernizing the language, and following that with “A Prayer attributed to St. Francis” and “In the Evening” (likewise modernized).
“You’re an older, experienced woman,” he said. “Tell me what you think I should do. I’ve been into addiction, and I’ve tried everything I could think of to get out. Nothing worked. And I’d like to get back to my family, but I know I’ve hurt them–and they’ve hurt me. What should I do?”
Talk about being on the spot! Somehow, I didn’t think that encouraging him to try getting into another treatment program would be well received. I found a few words from the sermon I had read two days before and segued from there to “We all need to listen to each other, try to understand how we are hurting each other, and try to believe in each other.”
He listened with a sweet smile on his face, but he was getting antsy.
“I felt something click right then. I really did,” he said, standing up. “Can I take this [the prayer book] with me?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t give you that book. But there is something downstairs that you can take. And don’t forget your supper.”
He put the book down, we walked downstairs together, and I searched for a pamphlet.
“Come to church Sunday. We have services at 9:00 o’clock,” I said.
He smiled again and was gone.
In the sudden silence, I said, “Well, that was different,” and gave a brief recital of what had happened.
“You know,” said Deacon Bill, “If we hadn’t been serving a meal, he never would have come into the church.”
Note: Church of the Epiphany, Nelsonville was awarded a ECM grant in February 2021 to supplement their Summer 2020 emergency Covid-19 grant.
Submitted by Connie Elliott and Celeste Parsons, April 2021.