Not so long ago, Friday nights were without a doubt the night I most looked forward to all week. Now, however, Tuesday nights often end up being the highlight of my week because of community dinners at the Sycamore House. Friends, friends-of-friends, co-workers, Sycamore House alumni, members of St. Stephen’s, and others all gather together to enjoy a meal and conversation. Often, guests at these meals will stay for 2 or 3 hours just enjoying one another’s company. These meals bring lots of laughter and joy into our home: we end up serving around 10 or 15 people at each community dinner, and once or twice we’ve had around thirty people join us for the meal! When the table fills up on these busy nights, people sit in the living room and eat with their plates on their laps, or latecomers are offered seats at the table from those who have already finished eating.
The evening’s festivities begin for me a little after 5 p.m. when I get home from work. Sometimes Katie, who gets home a little earlier, will already be prepping some part of the meal for which she has taken responsibility—last week for spaghetti night she was rolling up some delicious homemade meatballs when I walked in the door. As the rest of the housemates come in, we congregate in the dining room, catch up, and hear stories of Jess’s hilarious co-workers while we cook; it’s so nice to relax and share stories after a long day. While some are cooking, others are tidying up and setting the table. Usually there is some good music playing, and occasionally G.R. will break out the guitar or banjo and an impromptu jam session begins. Priscilla, who gets home later than the rest of us, spearheads the cleanup efforts (and it is often an effort) after the guests have left. Everyone does their part and we have a great time preparing, eating, talking, and cleaning up.
When our first community dinner was coming up, I was kind of nervous and confused. As I set out dishes I wondered what kind of random strangers were going to show up at my house wanting to be fed: would it be awkward? Would there be enough food?
Two months later, people who were strangers that first night are now friends. We have regulars and one-timers, and all are equally welcomed and fed. And, miraculously, we have never yet run out of food! Even on the most well-attended nights, we have managed to feed every person who walks through the door. Not without a little bit of stress, of course—there was the time we roasted a 20 pound turkey without having thawed it the whole way through, and the time we made stir fry but I forgot to get soy sauce so Brigette had to do some heavy improvising. Believe it or not, somehow the food always comes out tasting delicious (though we may be a little biased and our guests may be too polite). Sharing a meal with such great people—guests who range from two months to 80 years old—has been a wonderful experience in hospitality and in service. We pay for the meal with our small food stipend, but I never think of it as a burden on my income. We find ways to make it work.
And, of course, all are welcome on Tuesday nights at the Sycamore House, no matter how they find their way there. Once, Katie invited a hungry young traveler with whom she had a brief interaction on the street. Upon coming into the dining room and being welcomed and fed along with 30 people who were complete strangers to him, the guest quietly remarked, “this is a different kind of place.”
I was struck by how profoundly accurate that statement was. The Sycamore House is indeed a different kind of place in all that it stands for, not only as a part of the Episcopal Service Corps but as a unique and positive presence in the Harrisburg community and, of course, as the home to six young adults who bring their own experiences and visions to the table (literally). It is home to beautiful traditions and wonderful people. A lot of what we do here doesn’t make sense, and it’s exhausting and sometimes feels a little bit crazy, but that’s what makes this place so different. I am incredibly blessed to call this place—this giving place, this receiving place, this different place—my home.