Parlor Dining for the ELCA Malaria Campaign

Allison Beebe

Today's post was submitted by Vicki Hanrahan, Synod communicator and Event Manager for the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin. The story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of the synod's Walking Together magazine.

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Pesto Peeps, Ramen was Gouda, Classic Meatloaf Chill Greasers, Blueberry Delight. Such was the dinner menu of Parlor Street Dining on Dewey Street, a remarkable ministry of Brett and Brandee Christensen who are raising money for the ELCA Malaria Campaign in a creative, resourceful way.  On the first Saturday of each month, Brett and Brandee Christensen transform their parlor in their early century home on Dewey Street into a community dinner where up to 16 people gather around a meal for conversation and fellowship…all in an effort to raise awareness and money in order to make a difference in ending deaths from Malaria.

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Photo: Gracious hosts Brandee, Katie and Brett.​

When you arrive, you are welcomed by their son, Kyle or daughter, Katie, who serves you a refreshment as you walk in the door and gives you an ELCA Malaria Campaign sticker to wear.  Brett then welcomes you to the Parlor where others are gathered for conversation while Brandee and Katie and other helpers prepare culinary delights in the kitchen. People from all over our synod come to experience Parlor Street Dining on Dewey Street! The cost is $25/person and 100% of the proceeds support the ELCA Malaria Campaign.  

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Photo: Kyle, Katie and Matt doing a dessert "practice run" for the January Parlor Dining Event.​

Brett begins the evening with a story of how this ministry was on their hearts. Brandee had seen a story on the "Today Show" where a mother of three children explained the sadness her children felt when they looked at the empty chair at their dinner table where their father usually sat. He served in the military and had been deployed, so the mother had the idea of filling the chair once a week with someone different from the community so the table wouldn't feel so empty. Brandee saw this and it inspired this idea. He explained, "She has a few things that bring her passion…one is creating community and the other is she loves to cook for people!" She also knew how Brett was passionate about the ELCA Malaria Campaign to overcome Malaria in 13 countries and so they decided they could combine their passions into something that mattered!  

After sharing their story, Brett then shepherds each person to their designated seat where you are welcomed with a nameplate and a tablescape reflecting that evening's theme. On the wall is a chalkboard with Malaria facts: 655,000 people die from Malaria each year; 90% of people who die from Malaria live in Africa; the ELCA Malaria Campaign Fund provides healthcare, medicine, mosquito nets, and education. Themes for the dining experience have included Mardi Gras where Jambalaya was on the menu. We were surprised by our evening's theme of "Classic Calendar Cuisine," and National Grilled Cheese Day served as the inspiration for our meal. You can't begin to imagine how many different ways grilled cheese can be enjoyed, but each course of the four courses was delicious and unique.  

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Photo: People from the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin gather for the meal. 

While the food and the atmosphere make it a special evening, the opportunity to make new friends and meet new people is especially fun. Among the many thoughtful touches to the evening, Brett and Brandee provide conversation starters including conversation about one's own passions.  

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As guests were leaving they could be heard saying, "Mmmmm good!," and "I'm so full!" and "Food is great, company is great, and all for a good cause!" Rev. Peder Johanson who attended with his wife, Kirsten, reflected, "Makes me want to do something like this." Well done Christensen family!

Many thanks to Vicki for sharing this story and especially to the Christensen family! Thank you for sharing your home and your love of cooking with so many people, all to support the work of our partners in Africa through the ELCA Malaria Campaign.