A community of faith serves up jazz, meals and hope
On Sunday mornings on the front lawn of St. Mark Lutheran Church, home of The Place, a jazz & gospel ensemble plays as families gather with lawn chairs and coffee, while neighbors sit out on their decks to listen.
Pastor Mary delivers a sermon. People drive by, and some pull over to see what’s going on.
Since June 14, St. Mark Church has offered outside services. Church officials don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
People are encouraged to bring blankets and bundle up as the weather turns colder. Those who don’t want to venture out can watch services online.
St. Mark Church in Norwich has always served the community. This church’s work goes beyond its religious mission of reaching people with the word of Jesus Christ. They feed the hungry both spiritually and physically. The church is also known as The Place.
Pastor Mary Robinson said, “We are the welcoming Place; we are the forgiving Place; we are the renewing Place. We are the idea or learning Place. We are the music Place. This is The Place, where you will find people who are concerned about forgiveness and renewal.
“All are welcome. Faith or no faith. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or how long you want to stay. We’re open to all — the LGBTQ community and all races, of course.”
Before the pandemic, The Place had already live-streamed their sermons, even before things shut down.
At first, they weren’t live streaming the church’s music because of copyright, but their hymnal publisher gave nationwide broadcast permission to the Lutheran church. So now, music is online as well.
Music is an integral part of the church and makes the Sunday service quite uplifting. Their small band plays on the front steps.
The pandemic hit musicians very hard, and The Place wanted to help. Member Brian Armstrong worked with Ian Frenkel, area musician and ensemble leader, to produce an online concert series. Viewers can enjoy songs including “Amazing Grace,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “Down by the Riverside.”
The series is free; however, donations are encouraged, and funds go to the artists.
There are many more people in need of help in these times, and the church stepped up their efforts. They collected toiletries for people who are homeless and started a cereal ministry. They offer a monthly book club on Zoom, along with morning prayer opportunities on Mondays and Fridays.
“We want to care for people’s spiritual needs,” Pastor Mary said. “We’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, especially about white supremacy and how it impacts us.”
On Oct. 17, The Place collaborated with Cornerstone City Church and held a Walk for Hunger that delivered 600 items to the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen.
In Norwich, St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen serves a meal six days a week. There is the seventh day when there isn’t any meal. The Place, along with other area congregations, stepped in to take care of the seventh day.
Each organization takes a turn to make sure a Sunday lunch is always available. They have not been doing a sit-down meal during the pandemic as was done previously; it is now a grab-and-go.
The last time it was The Place’s turn, the church provided 100 to-go bags of fried chicken, coleslaw, fruit, and dessert. At the end of the month, it increases the offering to 130 bags to serve a greater need.
The grab and go currently happens from a downtown parking lot to help those who live under the bridges, so they don’t have to go too far to get food. According to Sandy Quarto, president of St. Mark Lutheran Church, the meal goes back at least 30 years. It started with three churches and then a synagogue.
More participate now. The group evolves the offering based on the needs of the community.
They always include water. For people living on the street, water is critical. With the pandemic, access to water may not be there due to restrictions.
For those fortunate to have a home, we can wear our masks and wash our hands. But if you’re living under a bridge, there’s nowhere to wash up. Water is key.
With the holidays approaching, the church set up The Giving Tree, an annual event where you can grab a tag and purchase something for a family in need. The Place participates in partnership with Norwich Human Services; they make tags out of recycled Christmas cards.
Their members or anyone in the community takes a tag and buys the item. The list comes from social services. Organizers will modify this year’s Giving Tree since many people won’t pick up a tag at the church.
St. Mark Lutheran Church, home of The Place, is located at 248 Broadway, Norwich. For more information, visit norwichlutherans.org.
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