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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 8/14/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

COMMENTARY

Downtown church offers up a feast of hospitality

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

A few days ago, I saw 200 people partaking in what is certainly the best available breakfast in downtown Toledo.

And it is free.

It is served every Tuesday and Thursday morning beginning at 7:30 and lasts to roughly 10. It happens at St. Paul’s Lutheran on North Erie Street, and they call it “Morning Blessings.”

But no one is forced to engage in long or conspicuous prayer. The prayer is the fellowship.

Everyone is welcome. From lawyers to folks living rough, without benefit of regular shelter, employment, or nourishment.

This breakfast is not your ordinary cafeteria or fast-food dining. It is a banquet, a feast. You can have ham and eggs. But you can also have rolls, soup, pie or, on this day, homemade pizza. The choice is wide, and intentionally so. The idea is that those who partake are guests. Mike Self, the hospitality minister at St. Paul’s says, “So they should be offered the best.”

Mike is in charge of keeping things running smoothly. It is a lot of people — 250 in some times and seasons — and folks are encouraged to linger and visit. He tells me he has a secret weapon: Dignity. Everyone is treated as an honored patron and is expected to behave as one. Mostly, they do. Mike sees to problems when he needs to. Just a word does it.

The feast is largely thanks to Mike’s wife Barb, a master chef and motivator of kitchen volunteers. Barb does most of the cooking herself, sometimes managing as many as 10 or 12 dishes at once. If it never occurred to you that food preparation, and the breaking of bread in common, are essentially sacred events, you need to meet Barb. Not content with multiplying loaves and fishes, she augments them with collard greens and fried chicken.

Thanks to Mike and Barb, this whole event feels like the gathering of an extended family. There is no “help the little people” toxic charity here.

The Selfs also had the assistance of at least 10 volunteers from the church on this day. Any trouble getting those volunteers? None at all, I am told.

St. Paul’s new pastor, Peter Bowmer, came from Australia — to work at this church in downtown Toledo. Last winter was his first in Ohio. Pastor Pete is falling in love with a city that he says has surprised him again and again with its variety, vibrancy, and friendliness. He is already working with other downtown churches to better serve together the central city. He’s started a jazz liturgy once a month and wants to begin a Wednesday night service. He tells me he felt “called” here.

Years ago, a friend who was an Episcopal priest asked me if I felt “called” to my job at a Hartford (Conn.) newspaper. I didn’t, and I didn’t get what he meant. “Called?” When I meet the staff and “Morning Blessings” volunteers at St. Paul’s Lutheran, I get it.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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