A Christmas dinner for North Otago people who might otherwise struggle with the event has become an annual fixture at the Orwell Street Church. Reporter Sally Brooker speaks to pastor Tony Dudley and administrator Carolyn Adams as they prepare for this year’s repast.
Q: What does the community Christmas dinner mean to you?
Carolyn: One thing that shines for me is people’s generosity. It melts my heart.
Tony: It’s surprising who puts up their hands to help. It’s often those with very little. Why is that?
Carolyn: Maybe it’s because they know what it’s like to be without. Maybe they’ve received kindness. The tin of fruit salad that walks in the door or a ham – it all counts.
Tony: When people phone through [offering to help], they almost have to have a reason why; they feel as though they have to explain.
Q: Who attends the dinner?
Tony: It’s not just those that have not. It’s for those whose natural rhythms of life have changed – a loved one has passed away, or for whatever reason they cannot be with their family, or they’re in New Zealand for the first time. I’ll never forget, probably the first or second time we had it, there was a family that had kids. The mother said: “This is the first Christmas we’ve had as a family where we’re not arguing”. It’s probably because they’re helping others and the children are involved. They’ve done some good; they feel good about that. There’s a feel-good factor about it.
Carolyn: When we get people ringing up who say they want to help and we tell them they must join us for the meal as well, they’re relieved.
Tony: It’s really important to include them for the meal. You don’t just serve it and go. It’s like at your home.
Carolyn: Sure, you can set the table but you’ll also sit down at it to eat. We had over 120 people last year.
Tony: It relies very much on the community.
Carolyn: I like listening to people’s stories. Some of it’s amazing; some of it’s heartbreaking. When do we take the time to listen?
Q: What supplies do you still need this year?
Carolyn: We’ve got one ham at the moment. It’s OK, we have faith, it will happen. We will make it happen. Sally-Ann Donnelly [from Fat Sally’s, Portside, and the Loan and Merc] is amazing, from supplying Christmas crackers to getting all our meat sliced up and plated.
Tony: She’s been amazing; it’s huge. We’re imploring other businesses and individuals to think of us.
Carolyn: It’s their community.
Tony: The strength of this community is that it’s really non-judgemental. We’re all in the same boat. It’s the humanity side of it.
Carolyn: The Orwell Street Church motto is people caring for people.
Tony: It’s a good way to bless our community; a practical thing. What better time to do it than Christmas?
* The Orwell Street Church is also offering parents the chance of a few hours to themselves in the lead-up to Christmas. It is putting on a fun night for children on Thursday, December 21, from 6pm to 9.30pm.
Best suited to those aged 5 to 10, it involves a sausage sizzle, making popcorn, doing crafts, playing games, and watching a movie.
The entry fee is a gold coin donation.