By S.L. Hansen
TECUMSEH (SNR) - Since the end of October, a husband and wife at St. Andrew Parish in Tecumseh have opened their home to other parishioners and friends for casual, faith-filled evenings they call, “Laughs, Talk and Wine.”
“It’s kind of a way for parishioners to get to know each other and have a little fun,” Josh Stutheit said.
He and his wife Gina first started talking about the idea after attending the “Christ Our Life” conference in Des Moines last summer.
Shortly before the conference, their pastor, Father Thomas Dunavan, made sure Josh Stutheit met Kris Sarver. Sarver, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Auburn, was also heading to the conference. The two chatted briefly, just to say hello and suggest meeting up in Des Moines, if possible.
The Stutheits were at the conference when a woman who “looked familiar” asked if she could sit in the vacant seat beside Josh. It took Stutheit a few minutes to realize that she was Kris Sarver.
The couple asked her to lunch, and over the shared meal, they learned that Sarver had a powerful story about her own faith journey.
“We should have her over for dinner,” Stutheit suggested to his wife after they returned to Tecumseh.
Within a week, the couple had realized that more people besides themselves should know Kris Sarver and hear her story. They planned an informal gathering, similar to the “Theology on Tap” format. For their purposes, they decided people could bring their own beverages as well as appetizers to share, and then socialize for a little while before hearing Sarver’s inspiring talk.
A short conference with Father Dunavan earned his approval.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Father Dunavan recalled. “To me, it’s a means of evangelizing.”
Indeed, very recently, Father Dunavan met with a person who wanted to return to the Catholic faith after having spoken with somebody who had attended one of these gatherings.
The Stutheits dubbed their gathering, “Laughs, Talk, and Wine” and opened their home last October to fellow parishioners from St. Andrew and its mission, St. Mary Parish in St. Mary. They also invited a few friends – some who were non-Catholic. Father Dunavan led the group in prayer and introduced Kris Sarver, who gave her short talk and then answered questions.
It was such a positive experience, the Stutheits arranged for Father Jamie Hottovy to come for a second gathering. He drove in one evening from Orleans, where he is pastor of St. Mary Church and its missions, St. Michael in Oxford and St. Joseph in Alma.
Father Hottovy studied architecture before entering the seminary. His message that evening focused on the beauty of architecture.
Most recently, Father Dunavan’s parents, Bill and Susan, came to “Laughs, Talk and Wine” to share their experience as missionaries to Africa some 40 years ago.
Father Dunavan said that participation has been good. Upwards of two dozen parishioners have come, as well as about a dozen Catholics from other parishes nearby and 10 or so non-Catholics.
Stutheit said he relishes the opportunity to grow in and share his Catholic faith. While his wife is a cradle Catholic, he was raised Lutheran. At one point, he decided it would be best to raise their children in one faith, so he enrolled in RCIA. He experienced a profound conversion.
“I just love being Catholic. That is my passion, my Catholic faith,” he said.
Ironically, when the Stutheits first started to attend St. Andrew Parish in Tecumseh shortly before their marriage nearly seven years ago, Stutheit said he intended to ‘fly under the radar.’
“I said, ‘We don’t know anybody here. We can just go to Mass and not do anything extra,’” he recalled. “Now I just love doing things at church…You say ‘yes’ to God and there’s nothing better.”
Stutheit said he sees the Laughs, Talk and Wine gatherings as an opportunity to share faith and fellowship.
“People who go to church are all part of the same family,” he said. “It’s great to get to know them for that reason.”
While Stutheit would love to help host a big conference in Lincoln on the scale of the Christ Our Life conference, he said he hopes these small gatherings will continue. The next Laughs, Talk and Wine will probably be in the autumn.
“There is such a big gap between the Gospel and society,” he said. “We’re having these little events to show people that.”
He added, “It’s a good thing to kind of get together and have fun a little bit… We love to do it.”