St David's on the Hill: A Congregation with a Big Heart

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At first glance, the physical building of Saint David's on the Hill Episcopal Church is a large one with off-shoots from the main worship building for offices, a preschool and two reception halls. Inside however, the congregation is not exceptionally large, numbering in the hundreds rather than the thousands as some parishes do. Regardless of the smaller numbers at St. David's on the Hill, their outreach into the local community and beyond is extensive and varied, and is a true example of what a smaller parish comparatively, can do when collectively, it has a big heart and a shared vision of helping those in need.

The parish outreach ministries are often what draws new parishioners into the church, as the opportunities for adults and children of all ages to serve others are numerous and wide-ranging. There are local feeding ministries for the homeless, prayer shawl ministries for the sick, the raising of money for cancer research or to support the RISPCA, international ministries for those struggling with housing issues after a hurricane in Haiti, ministries to help men, women, children and families and ministries to connect with individuals struggling with memory loss.

According to the pastor at St. David's, Reverend Peter Lane, reaching out and helping others in any way possible is just the way it is for the parishioners at St. David's, day in and day out, as they continuously work together to help others who may be less fortunate.

"We've got a new saying going up on our street sign," he said. "It's not original but gets to the heart of our outreach, I think. 'If you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table, not a taller fence.' It comes from a sign for the Canadian Memorial Peace Center. Providing food, shelter and hope to people in need not only changes the particular circumstances of those we minister to, it also changes us in some profound ways."

According to parishioner Lois Bogda, SSTARbirth, which is a residential substance abuse treatment program specifically designed for pregnant and postpartum women and their children, receives a Sunday meal on the last Sunday of the month from volunteers at St. David's on the Hill. They also receive decorated food baskets filled with donations from the Sunday School students and their families during the holiday season and loads of gifts from the parish's Giving Tree donated by the parishioners at Christmastime. Tom and Carol Blackington head up the Saint David's branch of Loaves and Fishes, a feeding ministry that partners with a number of other churches across the state twice per month, taking turns feeding the homeless from the East Bay to the West Bay, feeding those at Emmanuel House, a non-feeding shelter run by the Catholic Diocese, those at Crossroads in Providence, or at various housing projects and shelters in Rhode Island. "We call ourselves the casserole caterers," said Carol. "At St. David's we actually cook them hot meals in our kitchens at the church, rather than doing sandwiches or soups. We have made things like chili, American Chop Suey, chicken pot pie, and Chicken Divan, depending on what's on sale and what kinds of donated items we receive."

The group uses the kitchen facilities at the church, on the first Friday of the month for a Saturday meal and the third Tuesday of the month, for a meal that same evening. The numbers of volunteers vary from five or seven at a time, sometimes more, sometimes less as time and schedules allow, and they begin their cooking at 11:00 in the morning, only breaking for a shared lunch together.

"We feed anywhere from 80 to 100 people each time," said Tom. "Some stay at the shelter overnight, but others come, eat their meal and then sleep somewhere else. We try to give them enough food that it can potentially feed them for 24 hours at a time."

Both agree that those involved in the feeding ministry do it because it is simply something needs to be done and they recognize that oftentimes people aren't far from being in that same situation themselves.

"We've both had times in our lives where we've had to squeeze our pennies together tightly, although we have never been homeless ourselves," said Carol. Michael Sheldon, who heads up the Interfaith Food Pantry Ministry at St. David's, agrees. That ministry is part of a partnership of five churches who are involved in the food pantry, with member churches contributing to the food pantry which serves persons from the South Elmwood section of Providence in approximately half of the 02907 zip code and serves any persons in need from Cranston or any referrals from the member churches, no matter where they reside. The bulk of the food supplies come from the R.I. Community Food Bank, with the Interfaith Food Pantry being a part of the network of food pantries that make of the R.I. Community Food Bank.

"All of us are driven by the sense that there are a number of people who are in great need of food assistance, even if it is only for a short time to help them over a rough patch when they are between jobs," Sheldon said. "All of us who volunteer at the food pantry have a strong sense that it is important to keep the work of the pantry going as a safety net to people who need further food assistance in addition to other types of assistance they might receive."

For many at St. David's, the outreach opportunities they take advantage of are meaningful to them because of a connection they may have. For example, according to Anne Winch, who participates as a volunteer in the monthly worship service at Hope Alzheimer's Center, several of those who do volunteer from the parish have had connections to the Hope Alzheimer's Center with a family member or friend having received care there. She also noted that she, and others who are monthly volunteers at the Center, have seen a ripple effect from their time spent at the Center coming back in the form of outreach partnerships with Saint David's as well.

"They have a cooking and baking group at the Hope Alzheimer's Center and have often given us gifts of cookies or other baked goods which have been used to serve those at Harrington Hall or Emmanuel House or at a Sunday coffee hour following worship," she said. "It really is a special feeling to spend an hour there each month."

Being part of such an extensive network of outreach opportunities is just one of the things that makes the congregation of St. David's on the Hill a special one, but it's an important one, and one that is essential to making the parish community what it is.

"There are a lot of outreach ministries at St. David's for a church our size," said Reverend Lane. "Expanding God's word, opening doors and welcoming in the stranger, that's the work we are called to do."

For more information about the outreach opportunities at Saint David's on the Hill, visit their website: www.stdavidsonthehill.net/world.

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