The new name is a signal this is a community space first
The kitchen at St. Luke’s had long needed updating. It worked the way any old kitchen does: the stove was finicky, the dishwasher inscrutable, the refrigerator inadequate, the dishes and utensils – a motley crew. Those who used the kitchen made do. There were always more pressing needs, like a mysterious leak or a decades-old structural defect found in the bell tower.
The kitchen could wait, so it waited. Until finally, in 2019, a generous seed gift from longtime parishioners Al and Linda Potter provided the impetus for a congregational fundraising push.
The kitchen and dining room were home to parish events, community meals and 12-step groups. Putting that space out of commission was a hardship. COVID, strangely, made that hardship a little easier to bear, as in-person activities were halted anyway for many months in 2020. COVID-induced supply-chain issues slowed the project down, but earlier this month the congregation celebrated the kitchen’s dedication, and its new name: St. Luke’s Community Kitchen.
“Our understanding of the dining room/kitchen space is captured best in the title we have given it – St. Luke’s Community Kitchen,” said Fr. Tim Rich, the rector of St. Luke’s. “For decades it has been a gathering place not just for St. Luke’s parishioners but for persons from the wider East Greenwich community. People have been fed there; people have come to be sober there; people have celebrated all matters of life there. The renovations were made to ensure that the entire East Greenwich community would have a place to gather, whatever the reason might be, for years to come.”
Many years ago, the church initiated Christ Community Kitchen, a monthly dinner open to anyone wanting to be fed. The program ended up including other area churches who would sign up to provide the meal and some volunteers that month. The atmosphere was always warm and, as befitting any good potluck, there were always leftovers so people could take something home for another night.
The Interfaith Community Food Cupboard – which is housed at St. Luke’s – started a weekly lunch program some years later, working with local restaurants who would provide the meal on a rotating basis. Other churches, too, began volunteering at the lunch. Clients could stop first at the food cupboard then just head down the hall to the dining room for lunch.
Food cupboard managers Steve and Chris Bartlett of the East Greenwich Methodist Church attended the Dec. 5 dedication, glad to see the kitchen and dining room would soon be able to reopen for lunch.
“A couple clients just the other day asked – because of course they could see there was a lot going on here – ’When will the kitchen be done? When will they start the lunches again?’” said Chris Bartlett. With the onset of the latest COVID variant as well as final kitchen work to be done, it’s unclear exactly when the meals will resume, but they will begin again, officials say.
For the Potters, the dedication was also a homecoming. They moved to Colorado in 2019 to be closer to their daughter’s family.
“We’ve been a part of the St. Luke’s community for 30 years. We had become very active in the feeding ministries as a part of the community. And of course this area, this dining room and kitchen, have been a part of so much fun fellowship that we’ve had as part of our worship experience,” explained Al Potter. “As we prepared to relocate to Colorado, we felt this would be something that would give us an even stronger tie to St. Luke’s and to East Greenwich. It was a fun thing – after a little bit of soul searching – to make a commitment to get the whole thing started.”
He added, “It was about being a part of the community. Not just the St. Luke’s community but the broader East Greenwich and West Bay community. We wanted that to be a message to everybody here and those who come into the church and participate in fellowship events and feeding events. We just thought that was the right message.”
The dedication was a little bittersweet for Sue Clement, whose husband Ron was one of the original founders of the Christ Community Kitchen meal. Ron died in early 2020.
“This is a fulfillment of a dream,” she said. “The kitchen was in such horrible shape and just to see it so beautiful and so functional is wonderful – to continue Ron’s commitment to it all those years.”
Clement said her husband “liked being able to feed people.” When a downtown meal site at another church closed many years ago, Ron saw the need and acted, along with Tamara McKinney.
Clement and another parishioner, Lois McLaughlin (who’s husband Steve works alongside the Bartletts at the food pantry) organized a “shower” for the new kitchen. People at the dedication were invited to pay for supplies – pots, utensils, etc. – on display to outfit the new kitchen. By the end of the dedication, everything had been “purchased.”
For Gary Schweizer, the dedication marked the (almost!) end of a project that has been front and center for two years. As head of the St. Luke’s vestry (aka board) and an architect by trade, he was an ideal point person. It had been a labor for sure, but a labor of love, he said.
“We do not simply serve the community around us – we serve alongside them. And that is a level of richness worthy of the bold letters written above,” he said, gesturing to the St. Luke’s Community Kitchen words. “… it is with great honor and humility that we stand here today to begin a new chapter in the life of our kitchen. We stand on the shoulders of giants and a long tradition of caring and community. May these renovated facilities serve us as well in the coming years as they have for the past 60.”