At the Table
Pastors Find Support in Breakfast Group
By Rob MacKay
Soon after Justin Meyers began pastoring Church on the Hill in the New York City borough of Queens roughly four years ago, he realized that he was hungry for camaraderie.
In his previous post in upstate Schenectady, he had convened periodically with other local ministers to break bread and talk shop. The informal meals left a good taste in his mouth, he recalled, and the coffee-enhanced conversations helped him grow professionally.
About two years ago, Meyers met for breakfast at a Queens diner with two other local pastors, Jack Donahue of Colonial Church of Bayside and Tom Goodhart from Ridgewood's Trinity Reformed Church.
They ordered seconds.
The group takes shape
Fast-forward to the present, and as many as 10 local men and women of the cloth trek to the Palace Diner in Queens's Flushing neighborhood on the second Wednesday of the month at 7:30 a.m. to fill their bellies--and fulfill their souls--for about two hours.
"It's a chance to be together with no agenda," says Meyers, who usually orders eggs and toast with hash browns or a feta cheese omelet. "We just meet and we talk…about ministry, about politics, about our churches."
"It's been nice, bouncing ideas off people, finding out what others are going through," adds Anna Jackson of Queens Reformed Church in Queens Village. "Being a pastor can be lonely."
Some of the repasts have been exceptionally nutritional.
Jackson, who usually orders a cheese omelet, reported that one breakfast helped her in her position on the Regional Synod of New York's futures committee. Colleagues told her that they wanted the regional synod to be less pastoral and more of a resource center for issues that they don't study in seminary, such as how to deal with building code violations related to their churches.
Her husband, Dwayne Jackson from First Reformed Church of Astoria, is also a member of the breakfast club. He once asked for advice for improving his congregation's perennial economic woes. Those present brainstormed over ways that his church could save money, fundraise, and rent out space.
"It's been good to explore other avenues," says Dwayne, who usually fills up on pancakes, bacon, sausage, and ham. "[As a pastor], you don't have a large community around you that you can talk to. You are called to be the one in charge. But here we can ask for advice. It helps foster some really good friendships."
Donahue, who tends to order pancakes with a side of bacon, recalled a breakfast during which a diner requested guidance in a new role as youth pastor. This individual later reported that the plethora and variety of the suggestions really helped.
Diversity in the group
The word "variety" certainly makes sense in Queens, which has been one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the United States for decades. The RCA churches reflect this mixture. Goodhart's church has a German-language service, while Anna Jackson's place of worship is filled with Caribbean immigrants. Dwayne Jackson's congregants are largely African-American, while Bryan Yi of the Nakwon Reformed Church in Sunnyside stewards a Korean-speaking group. Marianne Lin, associate pastor of Taiwan Union Christian Church in Astoria, speaks Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese, and English.
The differences add spice to the breakfasts, the pastors say, and diversity is celebrated. Anna Jackson recalls feeling very supported at a breakfast during the Lenten season, when she and others in her congregation were fasting.
"We all have the same boss," jokes Donahue.
Due to various commitments among regular feasters--including mission work, vacation, and Bible school--the breakfasts were put on ice for the summer. However, Goodhart, who likes the Florentine omelet with rye toast and hot sauce on the side, says he is looking forward to reheating the tradition in September.
There will certainly be new items on the pastors' plates then, as they continue on their journeys. But Meyers predicts that one thing will remain the same.
"Everyone pays for himself," he says, "unless somebody's feeling generous that day."
Rob MacKay is a freelance writer and a member of Sunnyside Reformed Church in Queens, New York.
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