Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Growing old with dignity … and lunch

Two generations ago, coffee parties and white-glove luncheons were a common part of the celebratory routine of a congregation. Rarely are such events held in churches today.

Westwood Lutheran Church (ELCA) in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, has brought back the custom, precisely for those individuals who would remember the good old days.

First, fine invitations are sent to members of the congregation that have, shall we say, “experience with life.” For each shut-in who is able to attend, a driver is sent to pick him or her up and escort him or her to the meal. The escorts also stay and eat with the senior.

Al Ackley (left) helps Marlys Strand, a 100-year-old member of Westwood Lutheran Church, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, up the steps as she arrives for the Good Friday seniors luncheon. Metro Lutheran photos: Bob Hulteen

Westwood offers “Come as You Are” events three times each year — as the program year begins in mid-September, the first week of December, and Good Friday.

The program always includes background music ranging from old-fashioned flutes to sing-a-long piano tunes. Then, dressed in their finest, the guests of honor are escorted into the sanctuary for a worship service. For many, the Good Friday service would not be an option, if not for the generosity of the drivers and escorts.

And, although the meal is served with flair, the theme of this three-times-a-year event for congregational shut-ins is “Come as You Are,” which seems to be a theological as well as an aesthetic statement by event organizers.

Finding your place at the table

A volunteer heading back to the kitchen for utensils notices a new arrival. “Oh, Vi, I am so glad you are here. I have a spot for you just down by Tania [Haber, the senior pastor of Westwood Lutheran],” she exclaimed. She then escorted Vi to her seat.

Organizing the event is a little tricky, however, when you are dealing with people in their 80s, 90s, and, in one case, over 100. “I need to call people starting on about Monday,” said Shirley Lingo, “Come as You Are” event organizer. “They don’t RSVP early because they don’t know how they will be feeling that week,” she explained.

Connie Olson, coordinator of the meal, added, “And the weather can really have an impact on the numbers as well.”

Olson, who has volunteered to coordinate the meal for about ten years, since retiring as a teacher, prepares a meal for 100, which includes the volunteers and the seniors. “I decide on the menu because it is easier for a committee of one to make food and shopping decisions,” Olson said with a hearty laugh.

The Rev. Tania Haber (standing), senior pastor of Westwood Lutheran Church, serves Lowell Thompson and John Borden at the “Come as You Are” Good Friday seniors luncheon.

On Good Friday the menu included ham and cheese strata, spring vegetable garnish, fresh fruit slices, and crepe chantilly (bananas with whipped cream and toasted almonds). “We do have to remember to cook food that is easy for people to eat.”

But that’s not much of a problem for Olson and the rest of the volunteer team at Westwood. “It doesn’t bother me to cook for quantities.”

Westwood offers “Come as You Are” events three times each year — as the program year begins in mid-September, the first week of December (with a Scandinavian smorgasbord theme), and Good Friday.

“I think [a special meal like this] is something that every congregation should do,” Olson said. “These seniors can be too easily forgotten. And this meal is an opportunity for them to see their friends, which doesn’t happen often enough.”

Event planners know that the meal is a hit with its intended audience. “One pastor, when making a hospital visit to someone who normally would have been at the luncheon, was asked as soon as he got in the room, ‘So what did they serve at the luncheon?’”

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