St. Maria’s Table

St. Maria of Paris Outreach Ministry of Annunciation Cathedral in Norfolk, Virginia, recently celebrated its second anniversary. Given the ministry’s name, it should come as no surprise that St. Maria of Paris and especially the book about her life, Pearl of Great Price, were the catalyst for its founding.

For many years, faithful stewards of Annunciation recognized they had a facility that was ideal for providing meals to those in need in the larger Norfolk community. But even though there were many discussions about getting something started, it took the spark of a few individuals who were personally touched by the life of St. Maria (Skobtsova) to finally light the fire. As the book Pearl of Great Price was passed from person to person, each one became committed to making an outreach ministry at Annunciation a reality. As one member of the group noted, “St. Maria was amazing, but she was like us—very contemporary. She struggled with her faith, her calling, and the poverty around her. Her example was the driving force behind finally getting this ministry off the ground. After reading her life, we decided we can do this!”stmariaoutreachcollage

The group that envisioned what eventually became the St. Maria of Paris Outreach Ministry took its time to carefully create the best possible program. They visited and volunteered at other soup kitchens to observe best practices, created a manual for the program, recruited and trained volunteers, and finally had a test run of the meal with their own parish. Finally, the ministry was ready to open its doors to those in need in March of 2014.

In the last two years, the volunteers at Annunciation have served thousands of meals to guests in Norfolk through a weekly community dinner every Thursday evening of the year. Volunteers serve about 75 guests who are seated and served a well-balanced and delicious meal (as guests have noted, Greeks offer the best food and hospitality!) Serving takes about an hour from start to finish, beginning with a prayer by the priest. Once a month, a volunteer shares the life of St. Maria of Paris with the guests. After the guests leave, the volunteers sit down to share their own meal together and reflect on the evening.

Serving at the community dinner brings a great deal of joy to the nearly 200 volunteers who participate in the program. Volunteers serve as part of a team, and each team serves three to four times a year to prevent burn out. Most volunteers are from Annunciation, but others come from the larger pan-Orthodox community. Over time, relationships have formed between volunteers and guests, and the volunteers have been surprised and blessed to be on the receiving end of care and compassion from the guests whom they serve.

Not only is the ministry run completely by volunteer hours but also on food and monetary donations. The committee that oversees the community dinner is very frugal and careful to be good stewards of these donations. Because of this reliance on others, the committee truly feels God’s presence in every aspect of the ministry. There have been times when they weren’t sure where the next meal would come from, but someone has always stepped up to fill the need. Each week they are never sure how many guests will show up, and sometimes the number of guests exceeds the amount of food prepared. Yet, like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the number of servings has never been short!

The ministry’s goal is to feed those in need of physical, emotional, or spiritual food. Volunteers share the love of Christ with their guests—whether it is a father struggling to feed his family or an elderly neighbor in need of companionship. All are welcome at St. Maria’s table!

Annunciation is happy to share its operations manual with other parishes seeking to start a similar ministry. Visit their webpage for more information. To read about another parish outreach ministry inspired by St. Maria, read The Legacy of Orthodox Action Continues.

2 Thoughts on “St. Maria’s Table

  1. Beautiful ministry and one I would love to establish in our parish at some point in the future. For now, thank you for making me aware of St. Maria of Paris–I look forward to learning more about her journey. Keep up this magnificent work!

  2. Pingback: On Pursuing Virtue: Liberality | Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School Teachers

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