Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Partly because I really love pie, but mostly because I love getting together to share a meal with friends, family, and loved ones. Thanksgiving is a time when we take a moment to appreciate the gifts we have been given, and it is also a time when we are called to remember that there are others who are not as fortunate—in wealth, health, or happiness.
This Thanksgiving, before sitting down with their own families, several members of St. Brendan’s will prepare and serve Thanksgiving dinner for 40 to 50 homeless women. In fact, for the past 19 years, St. Brendan’s has provided a dinner almost every month for the women at Miryam’s, a supportive housing service run by Bethlehem Haven. That’s more than 200 dinners and over 9,000 individual meals! For the past four years, St. Brendan’s has also provided Thanksgiving dinner for these women. These meals offer more than basic nutrition; they are an opportunity for fellowship and a chance for the women to feel part of a community. As a representative from Miryam’s wrote in a letter to St. Brendan’s many years ago, “this program [Meals for Miryam’s] really makes a difference in the woman’s lives.”
Miryam’s, now part of Bethlehem Haven, is a program that serves homeless women with chronic mental illnesses or other special needs. Myriam’s Supportive Housing Services provide housing for 30 women, as well as mental health services, supportive case management, career and life planning, therapeutic activities, peer support, and 24-hour crisis intervention through Myriam’s Day Program. Every day, 365 days a year, Miryam’s serves lunch and dinner to between 30 and 50 homeless women, with many of the meals provided by volunteers like the members at St. Brendan’s. You can learn more about Miryam’s, and the other programs provided by Bethlehem Haven, on their website: https://www.bethlehemhaven.org.
St. Brendan’s was first connected with Miryam’s in 1992 when our youth group reached out to Miryam’s about volunteering. St. Brendan’s member Sylvia recalls, “I remember taking the youth group down to help serve one of the meals. It was a real ‘eye-opener’ for the kids to see and talk to some of the women there.” In October of 1998, St. Brendan’s began cooking monthly dinners for Miryam’s, and we have been doing so ever since. Sylvia, who was on the vestry at this time, said, “We thought Miryam’s would be an ideal outreach opportunity for St. Brendan's. At that time only five organizations were providing meals on a regular monthly basis for the forty or so women who relied on Myriam’s for a daily meal, so our help was really needed. It was also a ministry that offered flexible hours—the food could be prepared at any time—and it didn't involve great expenditure.”
St. Brendan’s cooks for Miryam’s the first Sunday of each month. St. Brendan’s member Linda, who currently does a lot of the scheduling and food shopping for this ministry describes the process:
In August the various ministries in the church [such as the choir or the altar guild] are asked to select a month that they will commit to cooking the meal. The menu committee selects the menus and provides the recipes for each meal. CRIES [CRIES stands for “Christian Response In Emergency Situations”; this open group meets monthly at St. Brendan’s to determine where to distribute St. Brendan’s tithe.] provides the money for the food, and I usually do the shopping for the ingredients. The volunteers show up on Sunday to cook and package the meal at St. Brendan’s. We ask that a ministry commit to cooking so that there are always several people there to cook, but, of course, anyone is welcome just to come in and help cook. It’s an easy way for people to get to know other people they might not otherwise know.
Cooking for Miryam’s is a great opportunity to meet new people at St. Brendan’s. In fact, it was one of the first ministries I participated in as a new member. Julia, another Brendanite involved with this ministry comments, “I love everything about cooking for Miryam’s: the fellowship (we laugh a lot), getting to know parishioners I might not otherwise get to talk with, learning cooking skills and tips from some really good cooks, and working hard to prepare a delicious meal for women who are so deserving.”
(St. Bredan's members preparing pasta primavera with chicken for Miryams in 2015)
At one point, St. Brendan’s prepared two meals a month for Miryam’s, but St. Brendan’s members Dan and Janice decided to take over the second meal as a personal ministry with their family. Homelessness was an issue that they, as a family, had been passionate about for many years. Dan says, “We have been preparing a monthly meal for Miryam’s since I can’t remember when. Every month we make roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, and coleslaw—with a dessert prepared by others. The menu hasn’t changed since we began because the women at Miryam’s are seldom served beef and so they are most appreciative of the meal.”
Though we have been cooking dinners for Miryam’s at St. Brendan’s for almost two decades, the way this ministry has been run has changed slightly over that time. When this ministry first began, volunteers were asked to cook the food at their own homes from the recipes provided. About five volunteers for each item (entrée, vegetable, starch, and dessert) were usually required to make enough servings. It took a lot of people, but, as Saundy recalls, “the schedule always seemed to get filled by parishioners.” Saundy continues:
Each month I would choose one of the recipes that I thought I could make with my son, who was young at the time. He helped in his own little way (shopping with me for the ingredients, measuring, mixing, stirring, handing me ingredients, etc.). Making the recipe became something that we could do together, and I used it as an opportunity to talk about the importance of helping those in need. As time went on, he grew up and other things took over for him, but I continued helping each month. … There is such need in the world, and cooking for Miryam's has been just one little way in which we, as a parish, can help on an ongoing basis. St. Brendan's has been committed to this ministry for many, many years, and I hope that we will always contribute. It's an easy way for anyone in the parish to become involved in outreach. It's also a great way to build fellowship within the parish.
Cooking meals for Miryam’s is a wonderful opportunity for fellowship within our own church community but it is also a chance to welcome women, who are often excluded or overlooked, as part of our family and God’s family. A shared meal was a common part of the fellowship of early Christians, and shared meals and potlucks are a frequent activity for many churches today. At St. Brendan’s, we come together every Sunday to share in a symbolic meal, the Eucharist. In fact, the term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” This Thanksgiving, as we give thanks for the blessings in our lives and share a meal with our friends and families—at home and at church, we at St. Brendan’s also remember those who do not have a home and we invite them to be part of our family, by sharing a meal.
Grace and peace,
Annemarie, with thanks this week to Linda, Rob, Betsy, Ellen, Julia, Saundy, and Dan and to everyone who has helped plan, shop, cook, transport, and serve these meals over the past two decades.
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A member of St. Brendan's since 2014, I enjoy being a part of this welcoming and giving community of faith. However, I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, please consider it my error and let me know! If you have any questions, comments, or ideas for future blog posts, please email me at email@example.com.