Dining with Dignity:

An Evening of Feasting and Friendship

A Meal for the Community

 

History

One of the things we learned in Fr. Samuel’s class in 2010, Eating and Drinking with Jesus, was how in the very early Church, the Eucharist was a full meal, with the bread and wine a part of it; what was left over was shared with the community.  This was the germination of the idea to once again bring a meal and the Eucharist back together.  The Fatted Calf Café is not an outreach program of St. Paul’s, but and extension of the Church from the Eucharist that we share upstairs to the common meal we share downstairs on the last Tuesday of each month.

For those not familiar with the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Fatted Calf is a metaphor for a lavish feast the father hosts to welcome home the son to who took his inheritance early while his father was still living, and squandered it on high living (if it happened today, he probably would have spent it on fast cars and fast women).  There were no apologies expected, no punishment, but only celebrating the son who has come home.  At the Fatted Calf Café, we welcome with a lavish feast those who for whatever reason find themselves outcasts on the margins of our society.

St. Benedict talks about welcoming the stranger as if he were Christ, for indeed he or she is.  The Fatted Calf Café is our opportunity to encounter Christ in the face of our guests, and to break bread with them.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus until they broke bread with Him, and in our breaking of bread we will also recognize Jesus.

At the heart of our Christian mission is the Parable of the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46)—the section that includes the passage, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food…”  Those who have worked at the Fatted Calf Café have discovered that our guests hunger for more than food—they hunger for companionship, for conversation, for knowing that someone cares enough to serve them, sit with them and break bread with them.

Since the first dinner in February of 2011, we have grown to serving eighty meals each month, served by a dedicated cadre of members of the Parish.  Each August we host a Barbecue on the Labyrinth.  In December gave fleece scarves to each of our guests and volunteers—scarves hand made by members of St. Paul’s.  Twice in our history, in addition to our regular dinner, we provided a meal to the residents of Tent City 3, which resided at Seattle Pacific University. We did this on a budget of $200 per month.  When we went over budget, the cooks funded the difference.

Our Parish volunteers have taken ownership of the Fatted Calf Café.  I’d like to name each volunteer, but I am sure to leave someone out.  So thank you to all who volunteered, who prayed, and who baked cookies.  Thank you to the Vestry for their continued support.  Thank you to Melissa for her encouragement, for the meal she cooked, and for being there for our guests.

The Fatted Calf Café makes a difference in the lives of our guests.  Even more than our guests is the impact serving and sharing a meal with our guests has on the lives of our volunteers.

If you haven’t yet been to the Fatted Calf Café, come on the last Tuesday and meet Jesus.

 

 Brad Kirschner

 

If you wish to live in that good place where no one is hungry, now in this evil place break bread with the hungry.

St. Augustine of Hippo

A Meal of Welcoming, Reconciliation and Hospitality

The Letter of James states that “… faith: if it is alone and has no actions with it, then it is dead.” (James 2:17).  The Good News that we proclaim each Sunday, especially this year in which we are proclaiming from the Gospel according to Luke, focuses on the marginalized of society---the poor, the hungry, the homeless, etc.  This proposal is a way to put our faith into action.

The current adult foundations course is titled Eating and Drinking with Jesus:  Why Meals Matter at Home, in the Church and in the World.  In the course we make the connection between the Eucharist and sharing our food with the poor, the hungry and the homeless.  One of the materials from the course, a quote from the Roman Catholic Theologian Paul Bernier, puts it into perspective for me:

A true Eucharist is never a passive, comforting moment alone with God, something which allows us to escape the cares and concerns of our everyday life.  Eucharist is where all these cares and concerns come to a focus, and where we are asked to measure them against the standard lived by Jesus when he proclaimed for all to hear that the bread that he would give would provide life for the entire world.  But it will do so only if, finding ourselves with a basket of bread, we have peered deeply enough into the heart of Christ to know what to do with it.

I am proposing inviting the community, primarily the poor, the hungry, and the homeless, to a monthly meal to be prepared and served at St. Paul’s.  It would be modeled loosely on the Jubilee Dinner that is served on the last Sunday of each month at St. Andrew’s in the Greenlake neighborhood.

The name of the meal, The Fatted Calf Cafe, is chosen for a reason.  For those who know the story of the Prodigal, it speaks of undeserved lavishness—a surprise to the one who is honored and a message of the importance of the celebration to the host.  For those who do not know the story, the name is somewhat whimsical, and hopefully will arouse their curiosity—marketing if you will.

Sunday would be the ideal time, making the connection that this is a continuation of the Eucharistic meal.  Sunday, however, may not be possible, given the proximity to the 5:00pm Eucharist and the probability of the earlier worship services being moved to the parish hall during the planned renovation. A Saturday meal might even be better, giving more time for preparation and cleanup.

The day of preparation and the meal will begin with prayer.

The meal would not be a soup kitchen.  A “lavish” meal would be prepared (within budget constrains and ability).  Guests would be served at table, which would be set before hand with table cloths.  A host will be present at each table.  Fresh bread will be provided at each table.  Because we have a piano in the parish hall, live music will be provided.

After the meal, or within a week of the event, all volunteers will gather for theological reflection on the experiences of the meal.

For this to be successful, we need volunteers to prepare, serve and cleanup.  It is important, shall I say critical, that each volunteer pause his or her duties and act as a table host.  It is in serving and getting to know our guests that one is transformed.

The primary cost of such an undertaking is the cost of the food and beverages.  At this stage I don’t know what outreach funds are available at the parish level.  One source would be to use a periodic designated offering. I am willing to fund the meals once a quarter, although I think it is important that it be an undertaking of the St. Paul’s community.

My background with this type of ministry.

When I began my career in San Francisco forty years ago, I used to have lunch at a hamburger restaurant called “The Fatted Calf.”  This was before I knew the story of the Prodigal, but the name has always been in the back of my mind.

At a previous parish I assisted in serving a meal at the Crossroads Community Center in Bellevue.  The director of the program treated the guests with a great lack of respect—he reminded my of my drill sergeant in my Army basic training. I felt there was no reason to treat people that way. All people deserve to be treated with dignity.

For ten years I presided once a month at the weekly hot meals program provided at Bellevue’s St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church. It was family affair.  I would purchase the food and begin food preparation.  My wife and daughter would join me after work to complete the preparation and serve the meal.  Then we would clean up.  I enlisted the help of one of my clients, who was a professionally trained pastry chef, to prepare desserts.  When my daughter married, her husband joined us, and they invited their friends to help.  We grew the program from fifteen guests to fifty guests.  We developed a reputation for hospitality and quality of food, following the guidelines mentioned above.  When grandchildren came along, however, my daughter and her husband’s priorities changed.  I can prepare meal for fifteen on my own, but not fifty.  After ten years it was time to pass that ministry on to someone else.  Plus, in the interim, we had moved from Bellevue to Seattle.

For two years I was in charge of the Jubilee Dinner program at St. Andrew’s Seattle.  It followed a similar theme—treating our guests with dignity, offering hospitality to all, and the greatest challenge, getting the parishioners to interact with our guests.

I conclude in the words to the contemporary author of songs, Miriam Therese Winter:

Thus says God:

I will be heard!

Make flesh

of my every word:

give peace, justice, liberty

visible reality;

feed the hungry,

don’t just meet

And plan

what they will one day eat

Shelter the homeless,

help the poor,

the destitute,

the insecure

Preach with your hands,

wear out your shoes:

words alone are not Good News.

 

Brad Kirschner

May 3, 2010

If you wish to live in that good place where no one is hungry, now in this evil place break your bread with the hungry.

St. Augustine of Hippo