The Episcopal Church of Vassar College (ECVC) Free for All Supper is a weekly opportunity for members of the Vassar community to get together, dine, share and reflect on the past week.
Participants come regularly and always find themselves joined by wonderful company and food.
President of ECVC J.D. Nichols ’17 explained, “The event is a very informal dinner, usually of pizza and salad, held in the Jade Parlor every Tuesday at 6 p.m. Most of the people who come are either members of ECVC, the Vassar Catholic Community (VCC) or the Vassar Christian Fellowship (VXF). Sometimes community members come, and itís always good to have [them].”
People relate to each other not only through religion but also through common interests or mutual friends.
Nichols remarked, “It’s a time to mingle together and to have conversations, whether focused on religion or not. Because it is hosted by ECVC’s Affiliate Advisor Reverend Robin James, though, topics relating to the Episcopal Church or to church in general usually come up at some point. Because it has largely been such a Christian space in the past, there have been great opportunities to talk about and explore the difference between various Christian denominational traditions. Discussions aren’t planned, and there aren’t any guest speakers or activities. All of the talk flows naturally.”
Everyone is welcomed and included in the dinner and discussion. Rev. James stressed, “I want to be clear that students DO NOT have to be regular participants in ECVC, VCC or VXF to come to the dinner as it is open to all on campus.”
As students file into the parlor, the reverend meets them each with a warm and personal greeting. First-time visitors receive the same welcome and are familiarized with the group in no time.
The general ambiance is like that of an intimate dinner party. Old acquaintances fill each other in on their winter break experiences, and new relationships are forged with every budding conversation. Similar to a study break, students and community members chat as the reverend passes around chocolate cookies.
Rev. James noted that the dinner provides a restorative place to for people to relax and clear their minds during times of stress. Before midterms and finals, students often spend an hour there snacking, chatting and napping.
According to Rev. James, the dinner began with Reverend Barrows, her predecessor, in the early 2000s. At the time, Rev. Barrows held the chaplaincy and was providing worship on Tuesday evenings in a closet in the basement of the Chapel.
Because both the VCC and VXF were meeting mid-week with food, she decided to start the Tuesday dinner. She had the time to cook for the gathering and did so for several years, and when she was short on time sheíd purchase take out from local restaurants.
Siennah Yang ’18, who has been a regular attendant since her freshman year, said, “I have three other ministries for which I am responsible which limits my time to cook, so I regularly order pizza and salad for the dinner. This is supported by program funds allocated by the Episcopal Diocese of New York Campus Ministry committee.”
She adds that the ECVC likes to finish off each semester with a big splurge. Last year Rev. James ordered from Bacio’s and cooked chili for the event.
The ECVC Free for All Supper is an amalgam of organizations, an opportunity for members of different groups to meet. Rev. James stated, “I assumed the ministry in July 2015 and have continued the long-standing tradition of the Tuesday Free for All dinner. I am pleased that this academic year has brought a more ecumenical feel to the evening with students from ECVC, VCC, VXF and also no affiliation to any of these groups in attendance.”
“It’s really all about fellowship,” James said.
Participants of the Free for All Dinner enjoy a weekly assembly that fosters communication in a safe and relaxing atmosphere.
Corinne Sigmund ’20 reflected, “I usually go to the dinner every week. It’s a friendly and welcoming environment and it’s nice to connect with people I might not get to know otherwise.”
Nichols shared, “The Tuesday night dinners are valuable, I think, because they provide a space where talk about religion is encouraged, but it’s not strictly one tradition or one denomination. Around 20 or 25 people generally show up, and I think they come (in addition to the draw of the free food) because it’s a place that’s open to talk of religion, but not a formal setting like a church service.”
They added, “I personally find it rewarding because it’s one of the few spaces where casual discussion of religion and religious differences can happen at Vassar in my experience. It also provides a space where people from various religious orgs can regularly meet together and plan events like the ecumenical day of service that Rev. James organized, in which people from ECVC, VCC and VXF spent a morning at the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, helping full-time workers and volunteers sort through vast quantities of food that had been donated.”
At a campus commonly labeled as nonreligious, events like the ECVC Free for All Supper allow students a safe haven for religious exploration and contemplation in a community where the public discourse is either discouraged or lacking.
Students with religious backgrounds or the desire to interact with different faiths find in the ECVC a new resource. And for those with no interest in Christian denominations there is, if nothing else, free food.