SUNLIGHT FILTERS through the fellowship hall windows on an early Sunday afternoon in March. Outside the 40-degree temps feel balmy after a brutally cold and snowy Minnesota winter.
I’ve left my coat in the van, drawing my sweater tight around me as I pause to photograph St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, before hurrying inside. The strong wind has a bite to it.
Inside, I grab a shiny silver tray, select a salad from choices on ice, pinch lettuce into a bowl and add toppings before placing the tray on a table to photograph the salad selections. While I do so, a teen ladles a generous scoop of Ranch dressing atop my lettuce salad.
Next, I move toward the kitchen serving window to consider the soup offerings—chicken noodle, potato bacon and bean. All homemade. I start with potato. Lynn fills my bowl.
Juggling camera and tray, I move down the line to the sandwiches. Kim and Keith are ladling soup, too, and refilling the sandwich tray.
I choose an open face sandwich topped with a mix of meat and chopped pickles.
My husband and I settle onto folding chairs at a table nearest the kitchen. I want easy access to photograph the scene, the moments that define this first of three Sunday Lenten soup luncheons at St. John’s.
I’ve been here before, often enough that parishioners welcome me into this country church east of Faribault just off Minnesota State Highway 60 along Jacobs Avenue.
I know the routine, too. Gather my food and then transfer bowls and sandwich onto a paper placemat so the trays are ready for the next diners.
There’s something about familiarity and dining in the company of the faithful, the din of conversation and the clack of kitchen noises, that comforts as much as a hearty homemade soup.
For two evenings and a day prior, Craig and his mother, 88-year-old Elsie, and their neighbor, Lynn, have labored, preparing the three soups, the nine salads and the mandarin orange dessert. Parents of Youth Fellowship members brought the sandwiches.
This is a labor of love and of service—the chopping of onions, the soaking of beans, the dicing of ham, the mixing of homemade dumplings (by the octogenarian)…
In the kitchen, 13-year-old Brandon dries dishes beside his mother and Elsie. Others tend the soup, sandwiches, salad and dessert. Youth hustle to bring and refill beverages, to clear tables, to deliver dessert. Craig rushes to refill coffee pots and cups.
I observe it all, from tabletop bible centerpieces opened to Psalms to the dainty floral pattern on church china to the stool I’ve seen Elsie use in the kitchen every time I’ve been here. She’s always in the kitchen.
This congregation works together, feeding diners like me who appreciate their efforts and the taste of great homemade food as much as this rural setting and fellowship.
Once I’ve finished my first bowl of potato soup, I get a new bowl and a scoop of bean soup, followed by a second helping of potato. I pass on the third soup; I’m not a fan of either chicken soup or of dumplings.
As I finish my dessert, Kim and Keith join my husband and me to rest for a bit and eat lunch. We talk about kids and the horrible long winter and vehicles in ditches and the couple’s continually snow blown driveway and such. It’s a comfortable conversation.
Before we leave, I pop into the kitchen again and catch Elsie finally sitting down with a bowl of bean soup.
FYI: If you’re interested in attending St. John’s next two soup luncheons, here are details:
And then purchase a jar of St. John’s famous homemade apple jelly or butter:
© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling