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day Pasta Night, guests browse the packed Clothing Rack. They are assisted by member Marianne Farr and Rick Gallagher, a former customer who has since found a job and wants to give back. Some shop- pers pick up soap or toothpaste, all donated by members or bought by the church.

Serving the poor with pasta & jazz

By Wendy Healy F

irst Lutheran Church of the Reformation, New Britain, Conn., thinks out of the box. The pasta box. Since 2008, congregational volunteers have cooked a weekly dinner for the homeless and poor— serving ziti, sausage sauce, green salad, crusty bread and dessert to approximately 100 people. “We’re a ministry of service,” said its pastor, Dagmar Rosenberg. “We

There aren’t too many cooks in this kitchen—there are just enough to serve pasta to the folks who congregate on the town green out- side of First Lutheran C hurch of the Reformation, New Britain, Conn. Every Wednesday night, First offers a meal, free clothing and worship.

felt a need here to help the poor. That’s what our mission is.” First looks like a stereotypical granite church built at the turn of the 20th

century. The 1903 building, with double bell towers, white granite steps and beautiful stained-glass windows, sits in a row of churches on Franklin Square, a once industrial area just west of Hartford. In stark contrast to the lofty architecture, rusty bikes are parked outside laden with Hefty bags of empty plastic bottles and backpacks brimming with belongings. What happens inside is fairly unusual for a congregation of mostly subur-

banites. When the dwindling congregation took stock of neighborhood needs, helping the homeless and the poor who congregated in front of the church was obvious. “God put this ministry right in front of our doors,” Rosenberg said. The Wednesday Pasta Night was started by five members, led by Leslie Marchesi, who recalls skepticism at first. “Only one person thought I wasn’t crazy,” she said, and that was Bruce Fletcher, a retired dentist and coun- cil member who was married at the church. But when teams of members showed up to help and 30 guests arrived for the first dinner, the church knew it was right. “If this wasn’t God at work, it was nothing,” Marchesi said. Rosenberg calls the church’s approach to neighborhood ministry entre- preneurial, getting donations from bakeries and setting aside money to pur- chase groceries.

The church also runs and houses a clothes pantry. Before the Wednes-

Once people finish shopping, they’re called to dinner, preceded by an informal come-as-you-are wor- ship, complete with a professional jazz band managed by music direc- tor Bill Hively. Rosenberg announces birthdays as people straggle into worship car- rying plastic bags and suitcases, with donated bread tucked under their arms. “Sometimes I have to stop and remind them to stop talking, and other times I just talk over them. We go with the flow,” she said. Rosenberg’s message recently was one of hope and healing. Refer- encing a prayer by Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, she reminded guests: “We’re all in darkness … but God gives us a presence of love and strength. My message is usually simple and direct—you’re made in God’s image. God loves you and welcomes you at the table.” And as this group sang “Lord, Lis-

ten to Your Children Praying,” a new church community was being built. The choir-ready voice of Jessica Ferreira, 23, carried the group. “It’s somewhere I can go, be myself and be with others like me,” she said. “This is the best church,” said

volunteer Shirley Hiser as she stirred the pasta pot. “We have the nicest people. This is my family.” 

Healy is a freelance writer and a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Brewster, N.Y.

For more information see community/pasta-suppers.

August 2013 33

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