Have Faith: Saintly Suppers

Chilmark Community Church hosts dinners focused on saints — and food.


The Lenten season is a good time to take a deeper dive into spirituality. It’s not all about giving up chocolate or your after-dinner glass of wine. You can also just up your game in the area of spiritual reading, sharing time with family and friends, or being mindful of your words and actions — you know, all the “stuff” we wish we paid attention to every day.

I spoke with the Rev. Charlotte Wright this week about some of the things going on at the Chilmark Community Church where she is interim minister, and Saintly Suppers came up. She and the church’s music minister, Seán McMahon, developed the event together and so far, it’s been a success. They had planned to do four of them, with the first one happening on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent. The weather had other plans, though, so that one didn’t happen.

Instead, a week or so later, they hosted a Saintly Supper that focused on St. Joan of Arc, who happens to be the patron saint of New Orleans. This, of course, translated to a delicious dinner of gumbo and veggies to keep with the theme. This week by press time they will have celebrated St. Patrick. The next supper after that happens on Tuesday of Holy Week, March 26, and features St. Peter, St. Andrew, and St. Anthony, with a fishermen’s theme. Portuguese fish stew is on the menu, and the event starts at 5:30 pm sharp.

Wright reminded me that Catholics haven’t cornered the market on saints. They’re for everybody. Good point. We get so hung up on proprietary things that we forget God is for everyone and everything. One of the things I love about living here is that the churches here are fluid. You can visit any one of them, as well as the Hebrew Center and Bodhi Path Buddhist Center, and have a beautiful experience without worrying about what the denomination is. McMahon agrees. “They’re very open and unusually ecumenical on the Island,” he said. “The same thing that makes us all wear a lot of hats, we do it with churches too.”

Now, you’re likely familiar with the Pizza Nights that happen up at the Chilmark Church on Tuesdays in the shoulder seasons. Folks get together and enjoy pizza from Rocco’s and then they love to play Bananagrams, Wright said. The Saintly Suppers are another way to get together for a meal, but then there is a spiritual component when you hear McMahon, who is Catholic, talk about the lives of the saints and then play some music that fits the theme.

Wright said that they have a good crowd for pizza and games and for the musical events the church hosts, but this time she was looking for something to bridge the Sunday morning service, something that had a church piece: “And I really wanted to give Seán some freedom in teaching and doing some music. Sunday morning is pretty scripted and constrained, and he’s brought in a great spirit, and I wanted to give him something to chew on. He’s so gifted.”

They decided McMahon could do his thing where he comes up with a lesson and the songs to go along with it, and Wright would make sure there was plenty to eat. So far, so good. A Catholic musician serving at an independent church might not have been the norm not so long ago, but McMahon made sure to ask his pastor, Father Paul Fedak, if he felt it was OK for Seán to help out at the community church. The answer was an absolute yes, McMahon said. He’s available for the 9 am service at the Chilmark Church, then he picks up his family and they head to the 11 am Mass at St. Elizabeth’s in Edgartown.

For McMahon, it’s not a stretch to be involved in different churches at the same time. It’s the opportunity given to him by Wright that means a lot to him.

“What we do is very simple,” he said. “We’re growing into it. I prepare a couple of paragraphs about the saint, and we pass around the reading so that people can participate. I usually sit at the table to play music. It’s very casual. We’re there to eat with a purpose … I think of it as very ecumenical. I’m just the Catholic guy that gets to share my tradition, but with the greater community.”

McMahon explained that the saints are an example of people we can all look up to. Anyone can learn from them and their lives. On the 26th, head up to Chilmark and hear about these fishers of men — Peter, Andrew, and Anthony of Padua.