A place for everyone: St. James Episcopal Church hosts Sunday Night Suppers
Rick Delaney ambles up the stairs at St. James Episcopal Church and adjusts a sign near the gate. “Sunday Night Supper - Everyone is Welcome,” the sign says. Delaney explains that he’s taking a quick break from the prep for tonight’s Sunday Night Supper, saying he coordinates with local restaurants to provide food for the event.
“This is our seventh year, I believe,” Delaney says. “It started a long time ago. People just started feeding people here at the St. James house. Then we moved over to the church, because we had a bigger kitchen.”
Delaney says the idea behind the suppers is to give back to Eureka Springs residents who don’t have stable income during the winter when tourism slows down.
“We wanted to take care of them on Sunday nights, and it has become a community gathering,” he says.
Sometimes, he says, the church feeds up to 80 people on Sunday nights. Delaney says the church is happy to do it, saying the suppers begin at the beginning of December and end around mid-March once tourism picks up again.
“This is generally the time when people need the help. That’s our season,” he says. “Our season is the town’s off-season.”
He credits much of the event’s success to the restaurants that provide food every Sunday. The participation of these restaurants, Delaney says, indicates the type of community Eureka Springs is.
“They know about the program, and they want to feed people,” he says. “Getting food has never been a problem.”
Delaney remembers some of the good times he’s had at the suppers, pointing out how eventful last year’s Valentine’s Day supper was. He says that supper has been his favorite so far.
“It was incredible. Catherine Reed came and sang. We had a really nice crowd, beautiful decorations, great desserts … that’s the one that really stands out,” he says.
Not much makes him feel better than seeing the church full of hungry people who aren’t so hungry anymore, Delaney says.
“It’s the best thing. It’s something we need, and that’s the best part about it,” he says, pointing downstairs. “There’s a roomful of people down there getting everything ready. We’re here to help the community.”
He’s been happy to see such broad community support for the suppers, Delaney says. He recalls the conversations he’s had with locals about St. James, saying most people have a good idea of what the church is here to do.
“They know what we do. We say, ‘We’re the one on the loop with the red doors,’ and they say, ‘Oh, you’re the one with the suppers,’ ” Delaney says. “It’s a very good feeling. The whole church is proud, not just me.”
A big reason he’s so involved with the suppers, Delaney continues, is because he feels it’s his duty to help those in need.
“I read about the sin of indifference. It’s not one of the Ten Commandments or anything, but I read it in a story a few years ago,” he says. “I said, ‘Wow, that’s true.’ If you’re not thinking about other people, that’s a sin.”
He moves downstairs into the room where the supper is being held, opening the door to an explosion of sounds and smells. Lucas Scarrow and Ryan Lerchen sit near a platter of fresh-baked bread, each twirling a spoon in their coffee cup. Scarrow says he’s looking forward to eating dinner.
“I’m here every Sunday,” he says.
Lerchen says he didn’t start coming to the suppers until this year.
“The food is delicious. It’s wonderful company,” Lerchen says, nudging Scarrow. “I mean, Lucas is here. What more do you need?”
Jane Stephens stops by the table and sits down. Stephens explains that she helps coordinate the dinners with Delaney and other members of the church but says she doesn’t want the focus to be on her.
“I really don’t want any … it’s not about me,” she says. “I don’t want it to be about me. I want it to be about these guys. That’s the most important thing. It’s about not letting these people die on the street.”
Church member Anita Taylor toots her horn anyway.
“This girl right here … she runs us. She knows what she’s doing,” Taylor says. “She won’t take any credit herself, so I’m going to give it to her.”
Stephens begins to cry. She says she’s formed meaningful relationships with the people who come to the suppers, nodding toward Scarrow.
“Lucas is like my grandson. He’ll tell you what he’s been through,” Stephens says. “I can’t do it, because I’ve never been there. I’ve never had to cover myself with leaves to keep warm in the night, and that’s what they do.”
Taylor puts her hand on Stephens’ shoulder and says she enjoys getting to know people at the suppers, too.
“It’s about the community coming together. Everybody gives something, even the people that come here to eat,” Taylor says.
Back in the kitchen, church member Olga Jensen pours a cup of tea. Jensen glances across the room, saying she’s happy to see so much of the community around her.
“It’s to help the public,” she says of the suppers. “Not just the poor people, but for camaraderie. It’s just goodwill to mankind.”
Pamela Tammi sits at a children’s table near the back of the room, creating little crosses out of Play Doh. Tammi says the craft table is always available at the suppers for children who want to make something new. She recalls when she first started coming to the suppers and says she’s always had a good time.
“I get to see people I normally wouldn’t see during the year, because I’m so busy working. It’s a wonderful way to meet people,” Tammi says, rolling a section of Play Doh into a ball. “I get to be a kid sometimes, too.”
A line begins to form at the buffet, and Delaney asks everyone to quiet down for a moment.
“I’d like to welcome everybody again for coming. We’re here every Sunday until March 12,” he announces.
It’s time to read the blessing, he says.
“In a world where so many are hungry, may we eat this food with humble hearts. In a world where so many are lonely, may we share this friendship with joyful hearts,” Delaney reads.
He smiles and motions to everyone to get in line.
“Supper’s ready,” he says. “Let’s eat!”