Every Sunday during Lent in 2015, in the hour before worship, we at St. Matthew’s in Florence found ourselves having to think hard, honestly and in new ways. Bishop Terry Dance’s Lenten Bible study challenged us at every turn.
But it was his final two questions — How does the resurrection shape what it means for us to follow in the “Way” of Jesus? How does this define the mission and ministry of the church? — that really got us brainstorming.
We thought about our mission and ministry at that very moment in time, and remembered Paul. Not the Paul you might be thinking of, but the hardworking man in our village who had, one freezing Saturday at the end of March, lost everything to a house fire.
All of us had done little things to help him where we could as individuals, but what about our church’s mission and ministry?
We decided the thing to do was host a fundraising luncheon. If we held it on a Tuesday, we would not be in competition, so to speak, with the local restaurant. But would anyone come on a weekday? We would start advertising and see.
A few roadblocks presented themselves. Benefits are not without complications, and we faced criticism, both well-meaning and otherwise. At our lowest moment, we wondered whether we should throw in the towel.
But we know and love Paul, knew he needed us, and reminded ourselves of earlier lessons we had learned in the Bible study. What of all this was God’s and what was Caesar’s?
“To respond to human need by loving service”: it is the third of the Marks of Mission, never in vain, and it works toward the new creation. We had been freshly assured of this while Bishop Terry was challenging us so rigorously. We would do our best to ignore Caesar.
What came of the day was breathtaking. Businesses and individuals pitched in generously with food, money and manpower. Pots of homemade soup simmered, sandwiches were made and piled on platters, pans of desserts arrived and were cut. Servers and table clearers worked steadily. Dishwashers were kept up to their elbows in suds. We worried about the quantities, but fed hundreds in the parish hall in our little village. Our clergy, Rev. Gary Parker and Rev. John Maroney, remarked on the similarity to certain loaves and fishes.
Paul was gracious; everyone was big-hearted. There were hugs and laughter and the donation basket filled to overflowing. At the end of the two-hour event, more than $4,200 was raised to cover the most pressing of Paul’s expenses, that is to fix the heavy equipment he uses in his lawn and garden business.
The food that was left was gathered up (again like loaves and fishes) to stock the freezers of a few of our local shut-ins.
Caesar was forgotten in all the bustle.