God’s Banquet: Feasting on Community in Dorchester

On a warm September night in 2005, when fleeting daylight gave way early to barely settled darkness, I hitched a ride with Pastor Rick Downs and two of my friends to an event called “Dine Around Dorchester.” Megan and Paul Sonderegger had offered  CTK members a chance to taste the cuisine of this richly diverse neighborhood, the largest one in Boston, and I was curious. They chose Pho 2000, a popular Vietnamese joint on Adams Street.

Paul was the first person I met at a CTK Cambridge church service, and I had met Megan months earlier when I visited Boston before moving up after college. I instantly knew we’d be compatible, and that I wanted to help them plant a new congregation in Dorchester.

We dined on bo 7 mon (beef cooked 7 ways), banh mi, and of course, pho. Paul and Megan shared the history of the neighborhood, its opportunities and challenges, the schools their kids might attend, and most of all the plight of the poor and marginalized. Gang violence afflicted the streets. Drug and alcohol addiction embodied the despair and hopelessness of poverty.  Single moms lived with little support, afraid of losing their children too soon. How could a new church help? We decided to try.

The next five years were portioned out in the good and hard things that build community: service days of painting, cleaning, and repairing apartments for needy neighbors; regular carpool provision for invalid church attendees; “family meal” potlucks; the crack of softball bats on hot Saturdays; the swish of the nets at Ronan Park; impromptu house worship during a whiteout; celebrating the Celtics’ 2008 championship in the same month that we (finally!) welcomed our new pastor, Dan Rogers, and his family; stuffing baby bottles at the crisis pregnancy center; tamping down rowdy behavior in children’s church; starting ESL and GED programs. I’ll  never forget how we dropped the Lees’ mattress out the window when they moved because it was easier than hauling it down the stairs; cut through frozen ropes tethered to the church sign; scraped together a jazz night for the neighborhood with our talented musicians. It wasn’t always easy. People came and went; members suffered burnout; we haggled over worship music choices; the GED program faded; meeting places were difficult to pin down. But Wednesday morning prayer meeting was my weekly water, and Thursday night small group was my weekly bread. Besides my sister, I did not have family in Boston. My loved ones felt far away, and I worked in a place that felt hostile to my faith. At church, I was known and understood. I was loved. I was fed.

I now live in NYC, a much larger city where it can be difficult to find close-knit community. My time in Dorchester compelled me to seek it out because I knew I could not survive without it. I have a good church home at Astoria Community Church and a solid network of friends.

A loving church community is like a banquet. We don’t deserve it, but we feel rich when we sit down to it. It is abundantly more than the bare necessities. It’s the overflow of God’s grace through Christ. It points to the supper of the Lamb where we will feast in eternity. God’s gift of community to me through CTK Dorchester was a great measure of grace in my life for which I will always be thankful. I’m envious of those who’ve been privileged  to laugh and cry with this community in the six years since I moved from Boston to NYC, making new memories of which I’m not a part.

Little did I know that the first Dine Around Dorchester would lead to five years of feasting together, literally and spiritually. In those five years I learned that everyone is welcome at God’s banquet, whether rich or poor, black or white, to seek, to know, and to enjoy him forever.

Laura moved to Boston after college with some friends. She found a job and then went on to grad school at Boston University a year later. During that time, she was involved in the initial planning stages and planting of CTK Dorchester. She now lives in Queens, New York, and works at the Institute of International Education as a grants manager.