Guest commentary by Linda Dickerson
On Mondays, you would hardly think that on Sunday mornings worshippers gather to sing, pray, hear the Word read and proclaimed, and worship God in this place.
It’s Monday night, the night of Northside Presbyterian Church’s Monday Night Community Dinners, a project begun about a year and a half ago. Why? To reach out to our neighbors in Blacksburg, Virginia, and to feed hungry people. The endeavor took a while to gain traction, but has become a regular “community.” Church members Heidi and Bruce do the lion’s share of meal planning and preparation, with help from a few others as needed.
This Monday night, about 35 people are sitting together at tables. We begin with a circle prayer, where prayer requests are shared and prayers offered before we eat. It’s pizza night – one of the favorites – and almost every scrap of food has been eaten. In one corner, Steve sits with about five children playing a lively game of Yahtzee. George, who is experiencing homelessness, comes every week; tonight he sits swapping stories with a couple of church elders. He assures everyone that he knows how to live outside, and doesn’t want to go to the shelter this night. Fannie is here as well, and a brief conversation with the pastor assures her that adult incontinence items are available at another local church. Alma and her foster children are chowing down at their table, and a concerned church member confers with her about the mental health issues confronting her older son, and offers support. Alma’s mother is here as well, and we hear the latest about the revival at her Pentecostal church. The baby, John, grins from his high chair, and is enjoying the game of tossing his sippy cup down so that the pastor can pick it up again. One boy shares his grief over his cracked cell phone screen.
Wilma lives alone, behind the church, and she is most hungry for company. Joan, a full-time worker at McDonald’s and a resident of the nearby trailer park, is here with her daughter, son-in-law and mother. It’s a long work day, and she is tired, and glad not to have to cook. Bonnie is here with her family, including her brother, who is blind and in a wheelchair. They recently relocated from West Virginia. She is worried that he leaves a mess behind, but is assured by everyone that it won’t matter — it can all be cleaned up later. There might be a theological discussion on how it is to be Christian in China, or what to do to help with a child’s reading level. Tonight we all pause as Sean, a 7-year-old, plays “Joy to the World” on his violin. Everyone applauds enthusiastically.
The menu changes each week, but it is always a hot meal, and ends each night with ice cream cones. Members of the church come on Monday nights as well, and relationships are built as a meal is enjoyed. After dinner, when conversations and games are mostly over, everyone – members and guests – springs into action. Leftover food is parceled out and shared, chairs are stacked, tables folded up and put away, dishes are washed or loaded into the dishwasher, the floor is cleaned, and everyone parts, wishing each a good night. Following the meal, there might be a drum circle or a Bible study for those who choose, but most go on their way.
The sanctuary is lively, with lots going on, and often it seems to be organized chaos, but truly it is a God-shaped event, and as the pastor, I give thanks for this amazing and diverse community of God’s beloved.
LINDA DICKERSON is a cradle Presbyterian and pastor of Northside Presbyterian Church in Blacksburg, Virginia. She’s married to Doug, a retired Lutheran pastor. They have one dog and 10 grandchildren.
Editor’s note: Names of guests have been changed.