By Vicki Hanrahan
Originally published in the summer 2014 issue of the ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin’s e-magazine, Walking Together. Republished with the permission of the author.
Pesto Peeps, Ramen was Gouda, Classic Meatloaf Chill Greasers, Blueberry Delight.
Such was the dinner menu of Parlor Street Dining on Dewey Street, a ministry started by Brett and Brandee Christensen to raise money for the ELCA Malaria Campaign in a creative, resourceful way.
On the first Saturday of each month, Brett and Brandee, members of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Sun Prairie, Wis., transform the parlor of their early century home on Dewey Street into a community dinner. Up to 16 people gather around a meal for conversation and fellowship, all in an effort to raise awareness and money to make a difference in ending deaths from malaria.
When you arrive, you are welcomed by their son, Kyle, or daughter, Katie, who serve refreshments as you walk in the door and give you an ELCA Malaria Campaign sticker to wear. Brett, director of youth and family ministry at Our Savior’s, then welcomes you to the parlor where others are gathered for conversation, while Brandee, Katie and other helpers prepare culinary delights in the kitchen.
People from all across the ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin come to experience Parlor Street Dining on Dewey Street. The cost is $25 per person and 100 percent of the proceeds go to support the ELCA Malaria Campaign. Initiated by the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, ELCA members have joined with companion Lutheran congregations and partners in 13 African countries to prevent and treat malaria, educate communities about the disease and more. To date, the campaign has raised $12.5 million of the goal of $15 million by 2015.
Brett begins the evening with a story of how this ministry was on their hearts. Brandee had seen a story on NBC’s “Today Show” where a mother of three children explained the sadness her children felt when they looked at the empty chair at their dinner table where their father usually sat. He served in the military and had been deployed, so the mother had the idea of filling the chair once a week with someone different from the community so the table wouldn’t feel so empty.
Brandee saw this and was inspired. Brett said, “She has a few things that bring her passion … one is creating community and the other is she loves to cook for people!” Brandee also knew how passionate Brett was about the ELCA Malaria Campaign to help end malaria, and so they decided they could combine their passions into something that mattered.
After sharing their story, Brett then shepherds each person to their designated seat where they are welcomed with a nameplate and a tablescape reflecting that evening’s theme. On the wall is a chalkboard with malaria facts: 655,000 people die from malaria each year; 90 percent of people who die from malaria live in Africa; the ELCA Malaria Campaign helps provide healthcare, medicine, mosquito nets and education.
Themes for the dining experiences have included Mardi Gras with jambalaya on the menu, Cinco de Mayo and Classic Calendar Cuisine with National Grilled Cheese Day serving as the inspiration for the meal. You can’t begin to imagine how many different ways grilled cheese can be enjoyed, but each of the four courses was delicious and unique.
While the food and the atmosphere make it a special evening, the opportunity to make new friends and meet new people is especially fun. Among the many thoughtful touches to the evening, Brett and Brandee provide conversation starters including conversation about one’s own passions.
As guests leave, they could be heard saying, “Mmmmm, good!” and “I’m so full!” and “Food is great, company is great, and all for a good cause!” Peder Johanson, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Brodhead, Wis., attended with his wife, Kirsten, and said, “Makes me want to do something like this.”
And that’s what Parlor Street Dining on Dewey Street is all about, in addition to a good meal together – inspiring each other to actions of faith and compassion in the world.
Vicki Hanrahan lives in Sun Prairie, Wis., and is the synod communicator and event manager for the ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin.