Serving Friday Mission Lunch in Paris, France
It was a beautiful, sunny morning in Paris as I walked along the Seine. It was my birthday and I was completely excited to be spending it in the city of lights!
Across the river, the Eiffel Tower’s wrought iron latticework gracefully sparkled in the sun. Below me I could spy on picturesque houseboats moored along the banks of the river and wondered what it would be like to vacation on one of them.
Tourist cameras were already snapping wildly as trinket vendors (les bouquinistes) began to set up their tiny stalls along the bridges.
I was heading towards the American Cathedral in Paris – on Avenue George V, in the heart of this wealthy tourist mecca – to begin my shift at their Mission Lunch.
Every Friday, 64 homeless and/or poor guests come for a hot, 3-course meal and dessert served by volunteers in a restaurant atmosphere.
There was LOTS to do prior to opening the doors for the guests.
“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness…” Isaiah 58:10.
This verse was printed on the paper in the entrance to the church.
Myself, and about 10 other volunteers, had come to serve the needy.
The Mission Lunch program began in the 1990s and is founded on an expression of hospitality where everyone is treated with dignity and respect in an environment where social spirit and fellowship are given special importance.
Guests would be greeted upon entry, seated at tables decorated with tablecloths, fancy utensils, and linen napkins, and partake in a restaurant-like meal where salad, cheese, bread and lunch dishes would be served to each person by volunteer waiters, on china plates.
Ice water would be served in glass goblets, and at the end, there would be a wonderfully delicious dessert.
Before all of this, however, came the set up. The volunteers arrived by 9:15 to set up the dining room and make all the food.
Today’s menu included a hearty green salad, Chef Jamie Oliver’s Chicken Curry, flavored basmati rice, and homemade cherry crepes with a cream cheese filling for dessert.
All of this we would make from scratch.
We would also slice plates full of baguettes and arrange lovely cheese platters for each table.
Most of the volunteers were American ex-pats who came regularly to help out. This core group of amazing people poured love onto the homeless each week and did other volunteer activities with the church.
A few others were from local organizations, including three volunteers from the Paris headquarters of Salesforce – a company very invested in charity work who regularly sent volunteers to help at the Mission Lunch.
I had come while vacationing in Paris for the week and was excited to be part of the group!
Volunteering while on vacation is one of the best ways to get to meet amazing heart-centered people in the community and to experience local life from a unique viewpoint.
No matter where you travel you can always find a place to volunteer – almost every city has a soup kitchen, food pantry or Habitat-for-Humanity type organization (home repair) actively welcoming one-day and few-hour shift volunteers.
It takes only a few minutes of on-line searching to find something. Try searching for “soup kitchen” in the city you are visiting. You can also ask the concierge at your hotel when you check in. They can often connect you with an organization.
Calling local libraries or churches directly is another avenue for opportunities. They typically have plenty of things to keep a volunteer busy for a few hours.
It is best to pre-plan so you have something set. I typically reach out at least two weeks before my trip to have my volunteer activity organized. This way I not only know I have something specific to do, but I have time to think about what I may need to pack (like work gloves, an apron, socks to donate, etc.). Volunteering while on a trip gives you a whole new perspective and experience with the community that is sure to connect your heart to the location in unique ways. You’ll come home with amazing stories that add additional depth to typical vacation adventures!
At the church, time flew fast as we prepped the food. The in-house staff oversaw our work and helped direct our efforts as we set up the 130 year old Gothic Revival meeting hall for our guests. Wonderfully passionate about helping their community, the church staff answered tons of questions about the needy and filled us in on details about the church.
Before we knew it, it was time for the guests to arrive and be seated. Our jobs then shifted from preparing the food to plating it on beautiful china and serving it to each person, just as if they were seated in a restaurant.
Some of the volunteers focused on refilling water carafes and bringing additional bread to the tables. Some of the volunteers helped clean up the various courses.
All of us spent time visiting with guests in conversation and laughter. For those few hours the guests were not the invisible homeless and poor but were part of a community of brotherhood, respected and loved and told they matter to us and to God.
At the end of the shift, once the guests had left and we had cleaned up the church, I left with my heart full.
It was such an amazingly special way to spend my birthday. I had connected with many new friends and fell in love with Paris in a whole new way!
To learn more about the American Cathedral in Paris, their Friday Mission Lunch program or other programs, or to make a donation, please visit their website at:
THANK YOU for joining me on this week’s journey!
Enjoy Jamie Oliver’s curry recipe (it was DELICIOUS!) and some additional photos below!