By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “It’s all about building relationships,” said Beth Blough, coordinator of St. Paul the Apostle Parish’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner event.
Adult parishioners were invited to be hosts or guests for the first event Jan. 21. Blough said the idea came from her sister’s parish in Charles City, Iowa. “They did it years ago. It’s about building hospitality and relationships. Getting to know one another.”
Hosts were asked to set a table for four to six guests and provide the main entrée and beverages in their home. Guests (singles or couples) were asked to bring a salad, vegetable, rolls or dessert for the number of people dining. “The hosts had no idea who was coming to their homes and the guests did now know whose house they were going to or who would be eating beside them,” Blough said.
The committee chose to pull names from a list of those who signed up to participate. “It’s a random game of sorts and what a great way for us to meet other parishioners or perhaps get to know them better while sharing a meal,” Blough said.
At 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 21, guests arrived at Denning Hall to pick up an envelope that contained their name tags, directions with a map to the host’s home and the host’s phone number. “The hosts didn’t know who was coming until the guests came to their door,” Blough said. Hosts had a packet with a list of ice-breakers, if needed, and a prayer to start the meal.
Ninety-three people participated as hosts or guests. Four others had to cancel due to illness. The goal was 75 participants. “Our ages ranged from mid-20s to mid-80s. We had singles, couples, widows and young couples in which only one could attend.”
Participants were asked at signup to note any allergies, such as to food or pets. That information was used in assigning guests to hosts and
the information was passed along to the hosts. “We had one person bring her own food because of her allergies.”
Becca and Tim Kelly chose to be hosts. “We knew we wanted to be involved in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but we were uncertain whether we’d be able to find a sitter. Since our babysitter was busy, we opted to host. Our kids enjoyed pitching in getting the house ready and even making menus for each guest, yet they were able to watch a movie upstairs while we socialized,” Becca said.
How did she feel about not knowing her guests ahead of time? “I won’t lie! I was totally fine about our guests being a mystery until the big day arrived, and then some jitters started. But, I kept reminding myself that the biggest reason we’ve become involved at St. Paul’s is the people and their sense of community. I knew in my heart that the evening would be a win-win, and that by stepping out to host God would bring together the people that we were meant to share that meal with.”
Of the five guests who attended Becca and Tim’s dinner, Becca said she had previously met one woman at a Bible study. “Everyone else was new to me.” There were no problems getting conversations going, she said. A few decorations in the house from a recent trip out West started one conversation, which led to talk of deserts, wildlife and world travel. “I just felt so blessed to be sitting there with people I’d never met and watching the conversation flow. No matter our ages or backgrounds, we could make conversations and connections. It was a beautiful reminder that we are all one.” Becca said she would like to experience being a guest, but is up to hosting again next year.
Cindy Burchett signed up because she thought it would be an enjoyable way to meet new people in the parish. She moved to the area about a year ago. With the passing of her husband 2 ½ years ago, she has become more accustomed to going to places alone. She said all of her experiences at St. Paul’s have been positive so she “jumped right in” to sign up to attend the dinner
She ate dinner at the home of Pierre and Marie Catherine Guyot. At Denning Hall, Burchett ran into Mary Ann Oliger, who she had gone to dinner with previously. They were assigned to the same home. “I think we were both relieved to know that we were going to the same house. Father Tony (Herold, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish) was also there but we didn’t know that until he arrived.”
Burchett felt conversations were easy to come about and the Guyots were very welcoming. Emails were exchanged between the group.
The next day Burchett visited with the Guyots after Mass and another attendee, John, a parishioner she met for the first time at the dinner. John’s wife was unable to attend the dinner, but Burchett met her after Mass. “I now have four new friends I can say hi to and visit with when I come to St. Paul the Apostle.”