Thursday Pulpit: Plenty to share, even now, at God’s table

Thursday Pulpit: Plenty to share, even now, at God’s table

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The Rev. Anne Clarke

The Rev. Anne Clarke

One of the things I enjoyed most about my 15-minute walking “commute” to my work at Grace Church on Spring Street in St. Helena was getting to pass by the restaurants with outdoor seating each day. I always smiled at the people sitting outside on a sunny day with a glass of wine or a coffee, visibly enjoying themselves on a vacation or an afternoon off. There are lots of people in this valley with a gift for hospitality, and it is always lovely to see those gifts resulting in someone enjoying a restful moment. It’s hard, right now, to walk by and see those tables empty, even though we stay away from them for our common need of safety.

In our tradition in the Episcopal Church (and in many others), when we celebrate communion together, we bring up and receive gifts. It looks like this: First, representatives of the congregation bring the gifts of bread and wine and the money in the offering plates up to the altar. Once they are on the altar, we pray in thanksgiving for these gifts, and for all the gifts of this earth and our lives that they represent. We also ask God to bless both these gifts and ourselves as we go back out into the world in service. And then we bring ourselves to the altar too, with all our needs and prayers and gifts, and there each person receives the same gift of bread and wine: food and strength for the journey. And while we don’t do it right there in the church, the gifts of money, too, are stewarded and distributed for the work of the church in the world.

In other words, we bring what we have to the table, we thank God for it, and then we mix it all up and send each other out into the world with a blessing. It’s a table that is grounded in hospitality — being welcomed to God’s table. Abundance, too: When we bring what we have to the table, even when it doesn’t look like much, there’s enough for everyone. And, having been fed at this table, we can go out into the world to try to live according to what we learned and experienced there.

Right now, our community at Grace Church is really missing that Sunday ritual of communion while we stay at home and pray online instead! But that doesn’t at all mean that God’s table is empty. Our church has had the chance to witness, support, and participate in the beginning of a new endeavor during this time: Napa Valley New Deal (NVND). Shepherded by Grace Church member Grant Showley and a small group of leaders, NVND seeks to bring together several different needs and gifts at the same “table,” so to speak, and to send everyone away fed.

In their own words, Napa Valley New Deal “provides hunger relief from St. Helena to Calistoga by sourcing high quality ingredients from local farms and paying restaurants to make nutrient-rich meals to be distributed directly to families in need.” It has been beautiful, during this time of empty tables, to watch a small group of committed people bring NVND into existence. It has brought me hope to see their vision — bringing our common needs and gifts together in a way that can let everyone be fed and flourish — come into existence. NVND raises money so that it can pair hungry people in our valley with restaurants and their workers, who want to be (and are good at!) cooking food for people who are hungry: It’s such a simple thing, and yet profound, to “keep the table set” for those who need to eat.

Their work is beginning to get underway: restaurants and their talented workers are already cooking food to give out to those who are hungry during these times, and this work is fueled by the donations from our community. NVND is just one of the many examples of places where the extraordinary needs of this moment in history are being met by the extraordinary generosity of those who are moved to give and serve.

So, while we aren’t getting to share a lot of in-person meals together right now as a community, I wonder how we might find ways to still do what we do when we gather at a table: Bring our gifts to contribute and be honest about what we need. I know that during times like these, that feel disorienting and distressing, that honesty and generosity both help me to feel more grounded in reality and a sense of agency. The table might be a little harder to see and organize than it usually is, in the virtual and separated spaces that we occupy during these times, but there’s still plenty to share!

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.

The Rev. Anne Clarke is assistant rector at Grace Episcopal Church in St. Helena. Join us for our online Sunday service at 9 a.m. by visiting grace-episcopal.org. You can also learn more about Napa Valley New Deal and donate online at nvnd.org. To reach Clarke, send an email to revanne@grace-episcopal.org.

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I majored in social work at Pacific Union College because I wanted to help enable others who are more compromised than myself.

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