Weekly religious dinner facilitates new conversations

Students gather each week in the Jade Parlor to discuss a variety of topics over dinner and dessert. Although sponsored by a religious organization, students of all beliefs are welcome to participate. Photo by: Nathan Tauger
Students gather each week in the Jade Parlor to discuss a variety of topics over dinner and dessert. Although sponsored by a religious organization, students of all beliefs are welcome to participate. Photo by: Nathan Tauger
Students gather each week in the Jade Parlor to discuss a variety of topics over dinner and dessert. Although sponsored by a religious organization, students of all beliefs are welcome to participate. Photo by: Nathan Tauger

Every week, a small group of people gathers in the Jade Parlor in Main Building for a free meal and a bit of spiritual growth. Fare can range anywhere from Kentucky Fried Chicken to fluffy cheesecakes.

“Everybody else was serving pizza,” explained Reverend Jennifer Barrows, a priest across the river, who  provides the food and facilitates conversation. “So we decided to do something different.”

On a recent Tuesday evening, Barrows served New Orleans style macaroni and cheese, seltzer water, apples and mini orange cranberry tea scones from Trader Joe’s.

The Episcopalian Church at Vassar College (ECVC) hosts the weekly dinners that last about an hour each. After the dinner, the Christian Fellowship meets on the same floor in Main Building. Although many Christians show up to the dinners to eat and talk, the meals are open to everyone, according to Barrows.

“It’s a good hang out time,” said Sarah King ’13, who recently graduated from Vassar as a psychology major.

“It’s something ECVC offers to the wider community just to come and take a break. And that’s all it’s intended to be,” said Barrows, lounging in a comfortable parlor chair. “In fact, there aren’t many Episcopalians at the dinner.”

Barrows joked, “We fiddle around every once in a while for what the E in ECVC could stand for. Everyone’s, Enquirers…”

Several students talked about the government shutdown, French authors, late night talk show hosts, NASA and a passing septic tank with a funny slogan.

“Last week, we were all over the place,” said King. “We talked about everything.”

“It was cool,” Barrows added. “Sometimes the discussions get, depending on what’s going on in the outside world or here at Vassar, discussions can get fairly serious, but most of the time, they’re not.”

Japanese and economics major Maxélle Neufville ’14, helped outline the conversation flow. (Disclaimer: Neufville serves as a copy editor for The Miscellany News) She said, “Last time we were talking a bit about communication and veered off into about spirituality which veered off into priests who refuse to speak in anything except Latin in certain denominations and that veered off into Babe and Miss Piggy. So yeah, anything can crop up.”

Seth Warner ’14, a frequent attendee at the free dinners, said, “The conversation is great. Reverend Jennifer knows everything.”

Barrows said if her title, “[It is] resident expert, period. Not of what. A little bit of everything. Expert of nothing.”

Neufville spoke to the atmosphere of the dinners compared to other religious events that are hosted, such as the Sunday worship and Christian fellowship meetings she attends although all are hosted by the Episcopalian Church at Vassar.

“[The ambiance is] a little more relaxed, a little more upbeat,” she said.

After dinner, lingering students walked around and looked at the Jade Parlor’s décor. Of Main Building’s parlors, the Jade Parlor has an Asian theme which Barrows said was popular in the era in which it was built. Furniture in the room is often rotated out, making each dinner a slightly different dining experience.

“You see, it’s kind of falling apart,” said Barrows as she surveyed the room. “The panels weren’t put together right, it’s a bit out of order. There are all kinds of little odd quirks about the room which makes it kind of charming.”

She pointed out painted wood, untarnished silverware and china. “Here’s some china that people used to drink from.”

Neufville, King and Warner are all regulars at the dinners but King and Barrows agreed that it takes a while for people to find out about the event. Currently dinner attendees are a fair mix of two post-graduates, and several seniors and juniors. Barrows estimated that around four to twelve people show up every week.

“Sometimes it takes a while for people to find us. Unless it’s a big dinner, like at Mardi Gras, we have pancakes and sausages and those tend to draw more people,” added King.

“Exactly. Just anyone can drop by. It’s totally open,” said Barrows. “Grab something to eat or have a seat. It’s mostly to be a break.”

King laughed and chimed in, “That’s why I’m here this week! I needed a break. And I didn’t want to make dinner.”

“That’s always a big reason,” agreed Barrows. She noted that casual passersby often become regulars.

For Neufville, free food was one of the initial draws to the event. “A full belly does go pretty far into putting in a full night of studying.”

For those with dietary concerns, Barrows stated that she can make vegan or vegetarian cuisine if she is given notice.  She explained, “First time it might not be available, but the next time it will be.”

And although the dishes may vary at the dinners, Barrows said she always brings a heated main course, a dessert and a beverage.

“There were burgers one time, made with different fillings inside the patties themselves. Very delicious,” said Neufville. “There’s been like pies and various breads and cheesecakes.”

“Sometimes it’s, you know, really exquisite stuff. The diversity is magnificent,” explained Warner.

Barrows also noted, “On Sunday, we served dessert after worship—garlic chocolate chip cookies.”

The dinners are every Tuesday at 6:00 p.m.

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