Funeral lunches heal hurting souls

News | May 31, 2018

In a carefully kept black notebook, the details of many years of St. Paul funeral lunches are detailed by hand. By year and name, notes about the meal served and the number of people who attended offer a physical reminder of a faith tradition that spans centuries, religions, and crosses borders.

The people in that book are the saints of this place – young and old, rich and poor, people who always sat in the same place each Sunday and people who came a few times a year. In the end, their family and friends gather here for a visitation, a funeral, and then a luncheon.

The menus vary, and the caterers do too, but the hope is the same: a time to tell a few stories, share a few more laughs and tears, and just simply be together.

“The purpose is gathering,” said Joyce Holland, who along with Jolene Mullins, leads the luncheon crews, with the help of people like Karen Miller. “It’s a good way to connect.”

In 2017, St. Paul hosted 17 funeral lunches. Joyce likens the funeral crew – which does include men – to the church basement ladies of her childhood. “My father was a funeral director, and my mom was the energizer church woman. If I have my dad’s gentleness and my mom’s enthusiasm, that’s what I want to put into this service.”

“It’s a good way to let people know we care about them,” Karen said.

Early in the morning on the day of a luncheon, St. Paul staff member Matt Spencer sets up round tables in the Library Commons. A crew of volunteers comes a bit later on, placing tablecloths, centerpieces, and prayer cards on each table. As food arrives, they get it in place, then await the end of the funeral. Sometimes, they have a moment to look at the photos and mementos on display and if they didn’t know the person, learn a little bit about them. As family and friends filter into the Library Commons, the crew begins pouring coffee and water, helping with plates, and offering kind words and sympathies.

At the end, the crew cleans up and boxes up the leftovers, which then go with the family or to a domestic violence shelter.

The volunteers come from all walks of life. Many are retired and have free time during the day.

Jan Bush began serving at luncheons once she retired from teaching. “I talked with Joyce Holland, and went on the list – that’s as simple as it was.”

“It’s a nice way to comfort people,” Jan said. “You’re a quiet presence on a tough day.”

The Library Commons is a warm, inviting space, Jan said, for what often becomes a generational time of sharing, of taking photographs, of reminiscing. Sometimes, items served at the luncheons offer a personal touch, crew members said, such as popcorn, cookies, and chicken nuggets. Menus are most commonly things like sandwiches, or fried chicken.

Dick Riddell, a member of the crew, likened funeral lunches to family or high school reunions. “You hear a lot of good stories,” he said. “It’s not work at all. People appreciate it so much.”

Interested in becoming a St. Paul funeral lunch volunteer? Contact Joyce Holland at, 563-359-0450, or Jolene Mullins at, 563-359-9306.

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Malachi 3:1-4

The Coming Messenger 3 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.[a] 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters[a] in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple 22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[b] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[d] took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna[g] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. The Return to Nazareth 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.