It seems that something changed when we finally got our first good cold snap here in Danville. All of our own peculiar markers of the season changing have become unmistakable. As the temperatures dipped to frosty, even our last hanger-on (Bruce) began to admit that it might be too cold for a milkshake. Our weekly meals began to see more chili, cornbread, and hot, buttery potatoes. Grace and Main’s budget began to show a little more stress to accommodate the dozens of folks who had not yet found warm shelter. The hospitality rooms in our home finished filling up for those who would be taking shelter in our homes through the winter. Some of our faithful congregational partners began refilling our coffers with “Urban Survival Bags” for those for whom we cannot find sufficient shelter. Finally, I began to receive one of the seasonal questions I’ve come to expect: “So, any plans for Thanksgiving?”
It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard of a question to answer. After all, it’s an innocuous question at best; but it gives me pause and an opportunity to consider what we’re doing in Danville as our intentional, Christian community of hospitality, service, and discipleship struggles to live in the Kingdom of God and by the Sermon on the Mount. Usually, I give a short description of the big Thanksgiving meal that Grace and Main hosts every November and say that I’ll be having Thanksgiving with a hundred or so folks.
It’s one of the quiet traditions we have in our little community—having an outlandish meal as we near the anniversary of our start and as our budget grows thinner under the stress of need and cold weather. Since 2009, the plan has always started with the commitment that we’ll be having a big meal even though we’re not entirely sure how we’ll pull it off. Invariably, our congregational and organizational partners step forward and offer us space, food, and more. In 2011, we ate the meal in our home and didn’t have a turkey (or somebody who had experience cooking turkeys!) until the day before. That year, it was the biggest meal we’d ever hosted not in a park, but we were breaking that record every week only two months later. In 2012, we ate at God’s Storehouse (our lovely, local food pantry) and were overwhelmed by the number of partners who were eager to participate.
This year, we were hosted by our beloved partners at Ascension Lutheran Church, who have cooked a big meal for us every month for a while and stepped it up even further for Thanksgiving. I could spend many paragraphs just telling you how much of a blessing they have been to us this year and at this most recent meal, but there’s so much else to tell! Seven turkeys and twenty-five pies and cakes were just part of the feast we held with a mixture of folks from regional congregations, our neighborhoods, local recovery groups, and all of our many regulars with whom we have, and continue to develop, mutually beneficial relationships. There were a few faces missing from our meal this year—Miss Betty, Linda, Mr. Oliver—and they were recalled with fond thoughts and grateful hearts. There were many new faces at our meal this year, as well. It seems that God continues to call folks to join us in building new families in unfamiliar places—we’re thankful to have them. Members of one our partners, Clarksville Baptist in Clarksville, Virginia, even made the hour drive to eat with all of us—with a blessed youth bringing us bags of coats and blankets she had collected for cold folks in Danville. For these (both people and also coats and blankets) we give thanks, as well.
We start this big meal off like we start all of our meals: with the Body and Blood of Jesus. As we pass the loaf and the cup, we proclaim to the world and to ourselves that what binds us and connects us is so much bigger and more powerful than all those things that try to separate us. When we gather around all those tables, we’re one big family getting to know each other better.
When I answer the question of Thanksgiving by talking about this dinner that I’ve grown to love so dearly, usually folks will respond kindly and ask, “Yes, but will you be travelling home?”
Sometimes the answer is, “Yes, we’re going to be headed for a quick trip home.” Other times the answer is, “No, not this year. We’re not going to get a chance.” But the answer always ends with the truest words I can utter around such a question: “But we’re having at least one really big, really wonderful family meal this year. Do you want to come and meet all your brothers and sisters?”