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The Hospitality Center and St. Luke's, Racine deepen connections with their community

All of our churches have developed new and innovative ways of connecting with their parishes and with their communities. We'd like to explore and highlight how our parishes are living into their mission and ministry during this time of social distancing and our Safer at Home order.

On Friday, March 13, the Hospitality Center, along with the rest of Wisconsin, found itself making changes we never thought would be necessary. On that day 121 people visited the Hospitality Center for breakfast, lunch, conversation, fellowship, and to get out of the brisk spring weather. By Monday the 16th, we had shifted to a to "to-go" meal format, offering breakfast and lunch in take-out containers and plastic bags. As the world adjusted to the "Safer at Home" order and CDC guidelines about social distancing, hand washing, and sanitization, the Hospitality Center also made changes. We spray-painted Xs on our sidewalk seven feet apart, much like in a grocery store. We moved meal distribution to just inside our front doors, allowing only one guest in at a time for meals. We repurposed the meal hall into a food staging and preparation area, ensuring our volunteers would be able to stand six feet apart while packaging meals.  

But not everything changed. The heartbeat of the Hospitality Center has always been our volunteers. And while some volunteers have taken a hiatus in order to keep themselves and family members healthy, others have gone above and beyond. We have a committed team of seven regular volunteers plus a few weekly volunteers who have kept up the standard of hot meals served five days each week. While packaged differently now, every meal contains a hot protein serving, salad, fruit, dessert, and either milk or water. Thanks to tremendous donations from all over our community, we supplement each meal with granola bars and other pre-packaged snack items. By the end of March, our number of meals served eclipsed the previous month. Since then we have seen a steady flow of guests, serving an average of 110 people each day. We anticipate this number might increase as the economic impact of the virus hits home for those currently without work. 

Another thing that hasn't changed: Even in the era of social distancing, we have maintained contact with our regular guests and have met many new guests whose changed life circumstances have led them to seek us out. Each day we have the opportunity to check in and share up to date information given to us by the city, county, and local healthcare providers. We have given out a steady stream of handmade face masks along with instructions for proper use. Our mission today is equal parts hospitality and public health, spreading accurate information and health safety practices to a vulnerable population.  

In addition to the changes at the Hospitality Center, the clergy and people of St. Luke's have embraced a rite from the Book of Occasional Services, "A Celebration for a Home." For many members of the parish, particularly retirees and non-essential workers, our homes have become even more sacred than before. They are not only our place of refuge, but also our place of worship, and sometimes our place of confinement. The prayers in "A Celebration for a Home" provide liturgical language for blessing these spaces as well as casting out any evil that might be present. While maintaining social distancing, Fr. Seth has arranged pastoral visits in order to bring Christ and the Church more visibly into the lives of the congregation. We use opening and closing prayers from "A Celebration" and oftentimes pray a blessing over the "terrace or garden." During one special visit, the director of the Racine Public Library (a St. Luke's parishioner) and Fr. Seth circumnavigated the library, praying the blessing for "a guest room" in spots around the library known to be frequented at night by those experiencing homelessness.  Yes, the practice of pastoral visitation and house blessing is nothing new. And yet, for St. Luke's and Fr. Seth, it has awakened a connection between clergy and parish and deepened our sense of God's presence in our homes and in our world.  

~Fr. Seth Raymond
Executive Director of the Hospitality Center and rector of St. Luke's