Churches offer free dinners

Events said to be opportunities for people to connect religion-free


Before deciding where or what to eat Thursday evening, consider St. Paul's Episcopal Church's community dinner.

Not Episcopalian? Not a churchgoer? Not a person of faith?

No problem.

"Perhaps it's the least churchy event possible," said Aaron Buttery, youth minister and mission director at St. Paul's. "It truly is an open community dinner that anybody and everybody can participate in."

The community dinners, held at 5:30 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month, began in February as a project that St. Paul's ministry undertook to learn about the needs of the community, Buttery said.

In addition to that, he said, the dinners serve as an opportunity for members of the community to share a meal and learn about one another.

Lisa-Marie Baker, youth minister at Holy Name Catholic Church, said it was that love of community that inspired Holy Name also to start offering the program. Holy Name's community dinners are held at 6:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month.

Buttery and Baker said meals are cooked by the parishioners of each church or have been donated by local restaurants including Epicurean Cafe, Steamboat Meat & Seafood Co. and Johnny B. Good's Diner.

"We try to make it something that's a full community experience," Buttery said. "But it should be tasty, really good."

Buttery said the state of the economy necessarily wasn't a factor in the church's decision to start offering the community dinners, but it didn't hurt.

He said the dinners have grown to feed between 45 and 70 people. But Buttery said the real value is getting to know members of the community, and they in turn getting to know him.

"While the numbers tell a story, they're perhaps not the most important," he said. "When someone comes in and I can ask them how their month was, an intelligent question about their life, and they ask about my life, that's growth."

Baker shared a similar sentiment.

"So often when people go into service," she said, "they think they'll change the people they meet. But we're the ones who are changed by the people we're serving."

She added that she and Buttery have noticed the dinners have grown and would like to see them continue to grow.

Buttery and Baker emphasized that the dinners didn't incorporate prayer or a religious element, but they would both be open to answering anyone's questions about faith should that come up.

They said St. Paul's and Holy Name will continue to offer the community dinners as long as there's a need for interaction between members of the community.

"We look forward to doing this indefinitely," Baker said.


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