If you belong to a Sunday school class, I hope it’s like mine. I can comfortably say it’s an imperfect but sincere group of men and women; very real. What’s makes it work is that we take that as a given, and move on from there. I’m a member of the ‘Journey’ class at Porterfield United Methodist Church. I was confirmed and baptized there when I was twelve by Rev. Jack Key. Many of my peers back then are there today, including our class leader, Scott Sperry. He and his better half, Vicki, lead our casual but serious bunch on all sorts of spiritual journeys and we are always better for it. There is one journey however, the class has embarked on that it did not seek. It found us. For the last three years we’ve put on an annual, Relay for Life fundraiser dinner called, “Spaghetti for Sabrina”. Sabrina Powell was one of us. She passed from cancer in 2009.
Sabrina had been bravely fighting her illness for years. Her husband, Bobby Powell, also a member of the Journey class, and a good friend of mine, was right there with her in the struggle. “When the class approached me about naming the dinner for her, I was honored”, Powell said. “Sabrina would have loved it.” Bobby pointed out that just about all of us could name someone from our own lives that has been touched by what Sperry calls, ‘the dreaded C word’.
At her memorial service, Bobby spoke of her passion, her honesty, and her zest for living. The sanctuary was packed that day. Powell has worked in media and advertising for years in Albany, and has also done a little DJ work on the side for parties and special events. When he got up to speak and saw the packed house, the first thing he said was that Sabrina would have wanted him to crank up the music machine for such a large group, and not waste the opportunity to spread some smiles. That’s the spirit that is carried over into the class fund raiser.
It’s a very strong spirit, and Bobby shared with me a little proof. About one month after Sabrina’s death, he and their son, Andrew, made a trip down to Shell Island to spread her ashes at sea. When they returned, Bobby tossed out a beverage that had been in the car. The liquid hit the pavement of the parking lot right in the middle of a singular sunbeam, forming a perfect heart. He showed me the picture he took with his cell phone. “That told me that she was there with us”.
A lot of planning and work goes into making Sabrina’s dinner successful. Everyone already has a full plate with their routines, and responsibilities, not to mention more serious matters that can come along unexpectedly. Yet somehow, every year, the Journey class makes it happen. On the Saturday before, the guys get in the Porterfield kitchen to make the best spaghetti they know how to make. It’s serious business, but there’s no way this class can spend time together and not laugh… a lot. We simply enjoy being together. To know that we are there for Sabrina rightly gives you pause and it always does, but you can almost hear her telling you to snap out of it, keep that sauce stirred, get those noodles boiled, and for God’s sake, have a good time! So we do.
On Sunday we gather again to add the finishing touches to the meal, decorate tables, and prepare dinners to go. We always manage to make a good donation to the American Cancer Society for the effort, but that’s just one of the benefits, and certainly not the most valuable thing we cook up in that kitchen. The best way I can describe it, is that it’s a tangible expression of God’s love. It provides us with a totally selfless project. Everyone there is looking for a task, some way to contribute, even if it’s just to get out of the way and wait for one of the ladies to tell you what needs doing; and they will. “Pierce, keep the bread warm!”
What we serve up that weekend is joy, and without really being aware of it at the time, or knowing the end results, we share it with folks coming by. Scott said it as we were standing around Sunday afternoon, watching the last of the plates go out, “This gives us a reason to be together”. I can think of no better real life expression of the verse; “Where ever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there I am also”, than our little fundraiser for Sabrina.
Now, I’m not bragging on my Sunday school class. There are many classes and groups all across Albany that do the same kind of things for the same kind of reasons. Decent people just need an outlet to express their better selves. There is no way that Sabrina and Bobby could have imagined what “Spaghetti for Sabrina” would come to symbolize for this group, when they were dealing with the most difficult matters a couple can face. The class certainly did not.
This project bonds Journey. It reminds us of many things; the precious gift of life, the joy of living, the value of good fellowship, our responsibility to each other, and most importantly, our shared belief that all things are in God’s trusted hands. If you need to see His spirit in action, make sure you order a plate of spaghetti from us next year. Find me, please. Vicki gets real serious about ticket sales.