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Viewpoint: Feeding mind, body and soul at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church

  • Dwight Schenk and Gray Kuras, a junior at ConVal, volunteer at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Dwight Schenk and Gray Kuras, a junior at ConVal, volunteer at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Attendees line up in anticipation of the Spaghetti Supper at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/><br/><br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Attendees line up in anticipation of the Spaghetti Supper at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.


    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Ruth Comerford, foreground, and July Flood Paige, background, prepare bhind the scenes before dinner is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Ruth Comerford, foreground, and July Flood Paige, background, prepare bhind the scenes before dinner is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Food is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Food is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Diners sit down to eat at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Diners sit down to eat at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • A cloud of water vapor emerges as Greg Scerbinski drains a pot of pasta at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    A cloud of water vapor emerges as Greg Scerbinski drains a pot of pasta at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Anne Fischer, in blue, prepares to carry two bowls of rolls outside the kitchen as the Spaghetti Supper is about to kick off at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Anne Fischer, in blue, prepares to carry two bowls of rolls outside the kitchen as the Spaghetti Supper is about to kick off at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Food is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Food is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Food is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Food is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • A crowd of diners scoop heaps of spaghetti and other dinner fixings at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    A crowd of diners scoop heaps of spaghetti and other dinner fixings at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Diners line up around the corner to get their chance at a plateful of food at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Diners line up around the corner to get their chance at a plateful of food at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Anne Fischer goes after Tom Badgley's knife in the kitchen after dinner is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Anne Fischer goes after Tom Badgley's knife in the kitchen after dinner is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Diners sit down to eat at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Diners sit down to eat at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Diners can be seen through the kitchen window as a volunteer prepares a sweet dessert at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

    Diners can be seen through the kitchen window as a volunteer prepares a sweet dessert at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
    (Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

  • Dwight Schenk and Gray Kuras, a junior at ConVal, volunteer at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Attendees line up in anticipation of the Spaghetti Supper at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/><br/><br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Ruth Comerford, foreground, and July Flood Paige, background, prepare bhind the scenes before dinner is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Food is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Diners sit down to eat at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • A cloud of water vapor emerges as Greg Scerbinski drains a pot of pasta at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Anne Fischer, in blue, prepares to carry two bowls of rolls outside the kitchen as the Spaghetti Supper is about to kick off at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Food is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Food is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • A crowd of diners scoop heaps of spaghetti and other dinner fixings at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Diners line up around the corner to get their chance at a plateful of food at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Anne Fischer goes after Tom Badgley's knife in the kitchen after dinner is served at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Diners sit down to eat at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)
  • Diners can be seen through the kitchen window as a volunteer prepares a sweet dessert at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Wednesday, Dec. 12.<br/>(Staff photo by Nick B. Reid)

“5,4,3,2,1….Serve Dinner!”

It’s 5:29 p.m. and 100 people are waiting in the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church dining room for their supper. Most of them are here every Wednesday night. More than just a supper, it is their community where friendships are made and nurtured. They are served by a loosely organized crew of “can-do-make-it-happen” people, focused on having the spaghetti dinner ready at 5:29 p.m.

At our long tables in the dining room are people in wheelchairs from the local sheltered homes, and people trying to stretch a social security or disability check to the end of the month. There are a few church members and teens. A number of people looking to stretch their pay. One observer told us that most of the diners live below the poverty level. I point out that we are living the spirit of radical hospitality, a comment met with scoffs. People just call it “The Wednesday Night Supper.”

Volunteers have been serving a free spaghetti dinner with salad, bread and dessert every Wednesday at the church for over 9 years. Our volunteers are teachers, high school and middle-schoolers, retirees and business people. When some volunteers retire after five to eight years of making supper, a new generation steps in to help. 

Everyone in the church kitchen stops at 5:29 p.m. for the one-minute countdown to the community supper. It is our ritual, our way of coming together after completing our separate jobs.

The people in the dining room listen to us count down and wait to see us come bustling out of the kitchen with steaming bowls of sauce and pasta, wooden bowls of salad, plates of bread, fruits and desserts.

At 5:30 p.m. we serve, we eat, we laugh, we talk with anyone and everyone sitting nearby. We pause in this safe space with a hint of joy and a sense of peace in our hearts.

“See you next Wednesday,” people call out to each other after eating their fill.

At 6 p.m. the clean-up crew arrives. People linger to talk and the volunteer cleaner-uppers bustle about until 7 p.m., when quiet again returns to the building.

“Hands to work, Hearts to God” was a Shaker saying that is dear to my heart. Most of the kitchen crew would give me a suspicious sideways glance if I told them that this is what I see. They see familiar faces and new faces who are hungry and waiting to eat. I see welcome hands and hearts.

In 2003, the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist church initiated a community supper in Peterborough. Despite the satisfaction the church receives from the important work of putting on a much-needed and valued hot dinner, the supper’s expenses weigh on the congregation. As the number of weekly guests has grown, their voluntary contributions have fallen. When the operational expenses of hosting the supper are tallied, the total is $20,000 a year. The food alone, factoring in discounts from Roy’s Market and Shaws, costs about $10,000.

Grants from the Goyette Fund, N.H. Charitable Foundation, the Bean Foundation and others in the past have helped to keep the supper going.

The church invites and encourages the greater Peterborough community to help fund the suppers with a tax-deductible gift made out to the Community Supper PUUC. Gift certificates are available in the Church office if you’d like to give a donation in lieu of a holiday gift. If you’d like to volunteer, the organizers will welcome your help.

Contact me at 924-6245 or david.robins@uupeterborough.org, for more information.

The Rev. David Robins is the minister at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church on Main Street.

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