Sermon: The Open Door
The Open Door

By guest preacher, Julie LaFontaine

August 9, 2020
Logo for the Open Door Gloucester MA

Good morning! It is a pleasure to be here in this meeting house —steeped in 292 years of history and service to the community. I am deeply honored to sit with you in this special place.

My name is Julie LaFontaine. Those of you who are local know me best as the executive director The Open Door. Today, I am wearing a different hat as your guest speaker behind the lectern, but I think the messages will be consistent with what we all hold valuable wherever we are on our spiritual path.

I am here first to say — THANK YOU. Thank you for your support. Thank you for living your values through service. Thank you for your commitment to build a world filled with justice and peace.

Although, I feel as though I have been part of the community forever, I have only been a resident of Cape Ann for 22 years — in fact, almost to the day. I moved here from Dublin, NH, to Essex with my family on a warm August day in 1998.

Today, I spend most of my waking hours in Gloucester. But my first time in Gloucester, was more than 30 years ago. I was a teenager. It was the 80’s. I had big hair and an attitude to match. I spent a couple weeks in Gloucester one summer working on an old wooden sailing yacht berthed in Beacon Marine Basin in East Gloucester.

That year, I took a $20 dare to jump from the ship’s rigging into Gloucester Harbor at high tide. I took the dare, and then immediately regretted it. I remember my heart beating hard in my throat as I put my foot on the first rung of the rigging and began to climb. My knees were shaking. I could smell the tar that was still warm and sticky from the sun. I could see and hear my friends cheering from the deck. They became smaller and smaller as I climbed higher, higher, and higher until I reached the cross tree.

I was scared to death, but I knew the only way out was down. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath. I jumped out as far as I could. I fell forever until I hit the water below with a loud smack. And, everything went silent as I felt the cold waters close over my head. Although it seemed like hours, it was really only seconds before I burst back to the surface — a winner. I won that $20 and established my reputation as a dare devil.

Little did I know then, that the trajectory of my life would bring me back to serve the most vulnerable in this community.

Until I was 9, I had lived on communal farm named Goshen nestled in the southeast corner of Lancaster County PA — deep in the heart of Amish country.

On that farm we grew acres of peas, tomatoes, and lima beans–wheat and corn. In the spring we would break soil for a new season. I was just six when my dad showed me how to steer the old red Farmhall in a straight line while he and the other workers followed behind tossing rocks onto the wagon it pulled. My legs were so short, my feet would not reach the clutch, so my dad would run up to shift for me as I putted along.

All summer, the fields would grow tall and straight. In the fall, the trees in our orchard would hang heavy with apples and ripe plums. The Concord grapes — bursting on the vines — would smell sweet in the autumn air. Men, women and children worked together to bring those crops in, and each day bustled with the activities of securing food for the coming winter.

Ours was a COMMUNITY way of life. Fueled by common values and hard work.

Little did I know then, that the gathering and storing and giving out of food would become central to my adult life.

When I was living on Goshen Farm, there was a dear saint of a woman who I knew as Aunt Dot. She wasn’t really my aunt, but that was the only name I knew to call her. She had one hair in the middle of her chin that waggled when she read me stories. I loved to watch the chin hair dance in the afternoon light while she read.

Aunt Dot made me a quilt for my sixth birthday. That quilt was a grand and glorious mishmash of colors. Instead of squares it included odd corners and strips of fabric stitched together in random array. Patches of bright red poppies on a yellow cotton background leftover from a dress pattern were mixed in with the heavy gray fibers of my father’s winter jacket, or the soft brocade of an old curtain that had hung in the living room. That ZANY QUILT was my favorite. I still have it today.

Little did I know then, that the quilt would teach me the most important lesson of community– STRENGTH through diversity.

Much like my crazy quilt, each person brings his or her own passion, and color, and texture to form the blanket of community. All shapes and sizes. Our community here on Cape Ann is a lot like that quilt. We find our strength in diversity. Together, we take care of our own. And for me, that is all that matters.

It is such an important time to be:
CONNECTING TO GOD. CONNECTING TO COMMUNITY, and CONNECTING TO EACH OTHER.

It is a time to EMBRACE our spiritual diversity, and LEAN IN to the things we share in common for therein lies our strength.

Our reading today from Isaiah 55:1-5

  1. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
  2. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
  3. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.
  4. See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.
  5. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Many Biblical scholars view the promises in this passage as an important link between the old and new testaments and the fulfillment of prophecy. Today, I am going to focus on the invitation in verses 1-3.

Isaiah was a master of illustrations from nature and culture. In this passage, he uses food and drink, something we all need, to issue us a CLEAR invitation to experience something more. He doesn’t beg. He doesn’t plead. Instead, he touches the very core of our human quest for existence by asking simply, “Does all this really satisfy you? Is this why you are here? Are you thirsty for more?” He issues an invitation, and urges us to LISTEN!

The Invitation

  1. The scripture is an OPEN invitation to something more. God’s call through his prophet is open to 
whom? To all who hear. (Come ALL who hear. ENTER and LISTEN)
  2. The bar is low. If you are thirsty, come. We all get thirsty, and we are invited to DRINK living waters.
  3. It also reminds us that FOOD is not required just for the body, but also for the spirit. We need to feed the 
soul with something more. (We BUY the truth and use it to NOURISH our spirits).

We all need SOMETHING MORE. How are you responding to the invitation in your own life? Are you filling

ourselves with things that don’t satisfy? There can be something more. “Are you thirsty?” the prophet asks. “Come. Drink. Be satisfied. Listen.”

Listen to hear how YOU may be called. May the word of God fall on open hearts and grow strong as we connect today.

This morning, we are gathered on sacred ground at the intersection of our personal faith and a world that feels like it has gone mad. We are striving to grow spiritually, to live our values, and to build justice and peace in the world. Feeding the hungry is a tenet of all major world religions. It is something that we can find in common, from church to mosque to synagogue or temple, across party lines, and neighbor to neighbor.

Normally, I would use this time to roll into the basics of who The Open Door is, and what we do. Many of you who are listening, know firsthand through your years of service to the community, the stories and the faces of people who come to find physical food at The Open Door.

Our mission is to alleviate the impact of hunger in our community.

The Open Door is located in Gloucester. Our main building is tucked around the corner from the high school down a side street. Only the small orange and green sign hanging from the telephone pole next to the driveway points people to our entrance at the rear of 28 Emerson Avenue, BUT last year nearly 3,800 households from ten cities and towns here in the northeast corner of Essex County found their way through the doors of one of our pantries or lined up at one of our Mobile Markets.

With your help, we improved the lives and health of just over 8,000 people last year with more than 2M pounds of food through our programs.

COVID RESPONSE
Our mission is the same, but how we do things is very different today. As the pandemic brought the world to world its collective knees last spring, The Open Door stayed OPEN because of people like you. We continued to provide daily essential services through curbside distribution of groceries from both pantries (Gloucester and Ipswich), grocery and meal deliveries to the homebound and quarantined as well prepared meals out of our kitchen for distribution to individuals and to organizational partners.

We used an alternating team approach for both staff and volunteers — Orange Team and Green Team. Green Team was in Gloucester where there was the heaviest demand when Orange Team was offsite or working in our Ipswich pantry which had a lower volume. Then the following week, Orange and Green teams switched. This reduced cross-contact, allowed better social distancing, and preserved a contingency plan in the event of a team member contracting the virus. Our teams worked in rain, snow, sleet, and sun outfitted with face masks, gloves and goggles. We looked like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it wasn’t a movie at all, it was real life—right there, right then. We started all this in our winter coats, and we continue it today in our shirtsleeves.

Since mid-March, The Open Door has stabilized nearly 5,000 households providing 738,180 meals through 14,173 curbside distributions and/or deliveries from our pantries to people in 10 Essex County cities and towns. Additionally, we have distributed 19,906 fresh dinners prepared daily from our own kitchen. Our Client Advocate has continued remotely to assist people with their SNAP applications and re-certifications as well as the Pandemic EBT.

Over the course of the pandemic, the average number of households served weekly has been 847 and the average # of people per week is 1,500. In the height of the pandemic, we saw a 40%+ increase in requests for food assistance.

Now five months into this, we continue to meet a 20% average increase over pre-pandemic numbers through our pantries.

We have attributed this drop back over to time to several factors:
• People began receiving stimulus checks
• State and federal unemployment claims were processed retroactively • People began to return to work as the state reopened

Now, we wait to see what will happen as the federal unemployment benefits expired, and we are waiting for Congress to pass a new COVID Relief package.

In addition to providing groceries to families and individuals, we also provided meals and groceries for nearly a dozen community partners who provided meals to their clients including the local combined shelter.

We know the road to economic recovery for many will stretch out over months or years. We are planning for the long haul.

COVID RECOVERY

We merged our COVID Response teams back together the week of June 22. As a precaution, our teams were tested for COVID19 before we merged back together.

  • Our pantries continue to operate from curbside with increased client choice. Daily deliveries are also made.
  • Our Community Meal program continues as a pickup or delivery.
  • We re-opened our thrift store to the public with reduced hours and safety protocols on June 24. Our 
thrift store Donation Center drop-offs have been shifted to an online appointment calendar with great 
success.
  • We are cautiously returning to food rescue and community food collections.
  • Our Client Advocates are busy helping people with their SNAP applications as well as other 
household supports.

Gloucester Public Schools continued the school lunch program mid-March to mid-June via mobile distribution. The Open Door assumed responsibility and transitioned the school lunch program to Summer Meals on June 18 providing both lunch and breakfast. The state relaxed many of the restrictions previously in place to increase the numbers of eligible children receiving the meals.

  1. The Open Door van can drive into a neighborhood or park outside a school and distribute lunches/breakfasts rather than setting up a site.
  2. Meals can go back home with the children where they can eat with their families where before, they could not carry anything away.
  3. Meal service will run M-F, but Friday’s distribution will include enough meals for the weekend, so the program effectively provides food SEVEN days a week.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

We are living in constant BETA as we figure out solutions and what the future holds. We have learned the following:

  1. To expect surprises
  2. To befriend reality
  3. To know our solutions are our assets

We are developing these program areas:
• Online Ordering (Peapod, Instacart) for curbside pickup or delivery
• Medically Tailored Grocery boxes for curbside pickup or delivery
• Virtual Nutrition Counseling and Training/Education
• Mobile Market Food Truck to get to reach outlying areas and target populations.

As an organization that has long thrived on knowing the answers, we are learning to be comfortable saying that “We don’t know” the answer to that — YET. Even though the world has shifted, the MISSION promise remains the same — to alleviate the impact of hunger in our community and connect people to good food in the safest most efficient manner possible to meet the nutrition needs of our community.

Story

At the end of a brutally wet and bitter day early in the pandemic, a homeless man pushed into our building despite being asked to stop. He wrapped his arms around the railing inside the front hall and planted his feet. Drops of ice hung on his hair, and water dripped onto the floor around him as he shouted, “I am not leaving. I am just too cold and miserable. You can call the police, but I will not leave.” The sheer desperation in his voice and body shook us all to the core. It was humanity at its most raw and vulnerable standing in our hallway asking for mercy. We were able to call an ambulance and get him some help, but we were all changed in that moment.

The pandemic has not only more sharply defined our mission and purpose, but it has revealed character and built resiliency.

EXERCISE

I am going to ask you to help me out here this morning I want you to take a minute and stop and think. You can close your eyes—or leave them open — but I want you to think about a favorite meal that you had as a child. Who made it? Maybe it was your mother. Maybe it was Sunday dinner at your grandmother’s. Or maybe your father. How did it smell? How did it feel to eat that meal? Who did you eat it with? Did you sit at the table? Did you sit in the living room with a TV tray? What did your plate look like? How about the glass that you drank from? Can you see it? Feel it? Taste it?

In the mid-1800’s, theologian Reverend Horace Bushnell, wrote:

“The home is the church of childhood. The hearth and the table are its holy rites.”

Now more than ever, it is important that The Open Door and hunger-relief organizations in neighborhoods everywhere, help hold those holy rites in place.

For what is a hearth without heat? And what is a table without food.

The food memories that we have as a child — good or bad — do shape how we view the world and who we become. It is important for us as a community to come together recognize that basic needs are social justice.

At one of our early Mobile Market sites, I stood at the cooking demonstration table making grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. The little girl who was next in line waited patiently as the cheese melted and the bread browned. I could feel her eyes watching my face, so I smiled and looked down at her:

“Is that your job to make sure kids get to eat?” she asked. My answer was simply: YES. Yes, it is my job.
It is your job. It is the job of everyone here.
It is a job we do together.

And, it is a job we do better because WE CHOOSE TO LIVE OUR VALUES THROUGH SERVICE.

The example that we set flexes the mighty muscle needed to help feed hungry people in not just our neighborhood, but in neighborhoods across the Commonwealth. And, in neighborhoods all across America.

The home is the church of childhood.
The hearth and the table its holy rites.
We have been given an invitation to SOMETHING MORE. How will you choose to respond today?