Garden Diary

Friday, February 24, 2006

After Church Coffees

Catholic parishes are not known for hosting after Church coffee hours, although the two parishes I usually go to, Holy Trinity in Boston's South End and St. Athanasius in West Roxbury, both host coffee hours.

The social benefit of the coffee hour is obvious. But does it serve any evangelical purpose?

I think so. Particularly when we have evening services, which attract more non-parishoners, the coffee hour (well, it's more of a sherry hour in the evening, but heck, it is an Anglican use parish) gives the excuse to pause and converse, but also the chance to meet new people and give people the opportunity to ask questions. We're urged in Scripture to ever be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and it certainly doesn't hurt to create situations where that reason might be inquired into.

The community-building afforded by a coffee hour is also more than social. It is a time when we learn of the burdens our fellow parishoners which we can then help bear, at the least in prayer, and when we learn of their joys, which we can lift up as well.

While some churches may find the logistics of putting on a coffee hour difficult, such as having no facility other than the church building, or offering back-to-back Masses all morning long on a Sunday, there are many more that will not have these kind of roadblocks, but instead just need to get going.

What's a good way to start? I think the following formula will help:

1. Have a sexton or other person actually prepare the coffee each week. Some people find percolators difficult or just out of their experience.

2. Buy decent coffee!

3. Have another person be in charge of the cups, napkins, plates, etc. Multiple people in charge will likely result in shortages.

4. Have a rotating schedule of people to bring something to eat and drink (such as juice and cream for the coffee). If it is a large parish, have two or more families scheduled each week.

5. Commit to a regular, weekly schedule. If coffee hours are once a month, or on moving dates, people won't know about it, especially new comers.

6. At coffee hour, look for new comers and invite them into conversation. Don't keep to the same groups of people. This isn't high school--no cliques!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Feeding the Hungry

I've been a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at the local parish since July of 1999. And a major part of what we do is bring food to the poorer families of the parish. Some of the families we'll visit in the next month or so are families that I visited in 1999; and some of them were being visited by Vincentians from the parish for many years before that.

When we go on a visit to one of these neighbors, we might bring 4-6 bags of groceries: pasta, rice, instant mashed potatoes, canned soups, macaroni & cheese, canned beans, fruits and vegetables, boxes of cereal and oatmeal, canned tuna and chicken, frozen hamburger and chicken, bread, etc. We aim to provide at least 4-5 days of meals for the family, but are constained as to what we give by what's available at the Greater Boston Food Bank of which we are members, and what we collect in various food drives at the parish.

Last night we had an information meeting for people who are interested in becoming part of the group. Among the things we told them is that taking on this apostolate is going to be an emotional experience. There will be times when we feel we have made a real difference in people's lives; where we have been empowered by God to go beyond giving a handout and established some real fellowship with the people we visit. There will be other times when we are heartbroken--where our best efforts are unable to help someone, whose situation might even become worse.

But we struggle to maintain our covenant with these poorer neighbors. We continue to visit. And bring the groceries. If we can do more, help one person get their citizenship, help another find work to sustain himself and his family, we are happy to do so. But we have also learned that while it is better to teach a woman to fish than to give her a tuna sandwich, the tuna sandwiches are greatly appreciated by a mom until her catch is sufficient to supply her children's needs.