Phillip Howell, our lay minister preached on food for us just after our Harvest Festival last October. He and his team run a weekly lunch club, the Friends’ Cafe at St Wulstan’s which is an important part of who we are and what we do.
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we continue looking at sacred spaces. I’m going to talk catering and I can’t think why I’ve been asked to reflect on this! The sacred space for today is the Refectory, the hub of any organisation. When we go to parties or family gatherings, we usually migrate to the kitchen, maybe because where the drink is being served but more importantly for me is where the food is. In the rule of Benedict, the refectory is given the most important after the chapel or worship space. In both places, being late is frowned upon.
When I looked after teenagers back in the day, Jan and I always felt that having a nicely laid table where we could all gather was so important. In fact the organisation that we worked for recognised that we as houseparents were the ones in the whole organisation that recognised hospitality in the sharing of food. The table was a seat of learning how to share with each other, learning how to respect each other and more importantly a place where we could share our thoughts about the day ahead, the day passed and the evening activities. The monks or nuns in any religious institution recognised that too. The Chapel and the refectory were the twin places in their life. Too many homes these days do not share that space. Many young people find that sitting at a table is quite alien. But my house rule is that we sit down, take a break from the hub bub of the day to share a meal together.
Last week we shared our harvest lunch, just sitting down, sharing a simple meal and chatting to people who sometimes we only have a passing conversation. It is difficult sometimes to make small talk with those we don’t know, but it is a very important of our Christian Ministry. I think that Sarah might agree that for the most part of our shared ministry is talking to strangers about life in general, the weather. Where would be without talking about the weather? The Dutch make it their hobby talking about the weather and I do find that topic a great ice breaker. No pun intended.
Our Old Testament reading this morning talks about Abraham inviting people into his home, asking his wife to bake some bread whilst he gathers the rest of the food, the meat, the milk and so forth. For people in that time it was essential to invite others in to eat and of course the washing of feet. In the Bible are so many instances where food is involved and more importantly hospitality in general.
Our Gospel reading this morning is a well known story about five loaves and two fish. The miracle that Jesus blessed the food and distributed amongst the crowd, and we are told that there was so much food left that they gathered twelve baskets at the end. Matthew tells us that 5000 men were fed, and I suspect many more women and children who are not credited in this story.
Jesus tells us that man cannot live on bread alone and I agree. The food for my soul is a lovely white soft baguette filled with sausage and tomato sauce!! I am being glib here because Jesus talks about spiritual nourishment. Our spiritual nourishment comes from sharing of bread and wine at our Eucharist. The whole concept of Church is to welcome and be welcoming. Our Sunday meeters and greeters are the first point of contact for those who are visiting here and that’s why its important to get it right. I have visited so many Churches whilst on holiday and to be made to feel welcome is important. Some get it right but many get it wrong.
The Lunch club was started here by Wendy many moons ago, to welcome and share with the over 50’s in the parish. That took a slightly different turn when Cllr Alan Amos decided to fund a lunch club in what he described as an area of deprivation. Our present Friends Café was set up to welcome anyone so there are no bars to those who wish to attend. It is successful, it is stressful for me at times but nonetheless, we always give a good, solid nutritious meal, we offer a chance to get together and chat. Many of those attending have lived locally for years, some have never seen inside our building, and it has been said that we offer a good welcome which they don’t always get at other lunch clubs. Our seating arrangements are tried and tested that we can sit next to each other and can see each other. There is no hierarchy of who sits where. We regularly feed 20-25 people and so we must be doing something right. The volunteers are committed to providing the hospitality and to treat everyone with respect. Many of those attending don’t see anyone else from one weeks end to another. We have physically disabled, those with mental health issues, lonely, bereaved, active, not so active — in fact a whole diverse spectrum, because all are welcome and none are excluded. I’m not issuing a general invitation to you all, but if we did get some people from the church membership to attend, that would ease the burden in providing some pastoral care. Where else can you get a two course lunch for £3.50?!
In the past weeks we have visited the sacred spaces of a holy order. And there is a link between all of them. Look at our own church community here at St Wulstan’s. We have a diverse congregation, we have people of faith, those with little faith, those who seek more from their spiritual and secular life. But St Wulstan’s will always be known for its welcome, its hospitality and its care of others. Long may that continue into whatever chapter we are in the record book of this Church. Amen.