Dick Kettelkamp prepared a beef tenderloin while his wife, Nikki Kettelkamp, 13-year-old son, Liam, and 9-year-old daughters, Elsa and Evi, prepared appetizers for them and their Sunday dinner guests. It wasn’t all that out of the ordinary for a Sunday dinner — except they didn’t know who their guests would be.
On July 17, the Kettelkamp’s were one of eight hosts at what their parish, All Saints Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids, calls “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” The program is put on twice a year by the church’s parish life committee and is meant to build a sense of community among parishioners by having neither the hosts nor the guests know who is attending the dinner.
“It gets everyone out of their comfort zone to meet new people,” said Sharon Kennedy, member of the parish life committee at All Saints Catholic Church, 720 29th St. SE in Cedar Rapids.
The Kettelkamp’s were serving as a host for the third time at their house in Marion, Nikki Kettelkamp said. The nine guests, ranging from a 7-year-old to 94-year-old, began arriving just after 5 p.m. with a side dish for the meal. The parish life committee told guests what main meal the hosts planned to prepare.
“That way they don’t end up with spaghetti and mashed potatoes,” Kennedy said.
Kathleen Todd was the first guest to arrive at the Kettelkamp’s home. She brought along her daughter, Tricia Wittmann-Todd, and son-in-law, Steve Wittman-Todd, who were visiting from Seattle — Tricia had grown up an All Saints parishioner.
Kathleen Todd, who’s been an All Saints parishioner for more than 50 years, said the church has tried to do more activities like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” in recent years. It would be easy to just mingle with people her age, but this program — which she’s participated in since it started in 2014 — has been a great way to meet young people and see where people live, she said.
As the pastoral associate at her parish in Seattle, Tricia Wittmann-Todd wanted to see if “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” could be taken back to her parish.
“There’s not an agenda — you just come and hang out,” Tricia Wittmann-Todd said. “Anyone could do it.”
Ericka Mushrush and her husband, Casey Mushrush, were the next guests to arrive. They’d also been attending since the program started.
“We’ve never had the same people,” Ericka Mushrush said. “You always meet new faces.”
She recalled one dinner where the priest was the host and they found out he really loves cooking.
“You wouldn’t expect it,” she laughed.
Other guests were Bill and Mary Lou McCartan and their 7-year-old daughter Maggie along with Jeanne and Matt Brandes. Once everyone arrived, the adults all mingled, with a glass of wine or beer in hand, chatting about anything from where they to live, to sports, to their jobs.
Laughter and the spice aroma from the beef tenderloin sizzling in the oven filled the air. The three girls walked around with napkins and an appetizer plate, asking the adults if they’d like an appetizer. Eventually the group went to the dining room and prayed before enjoying their meal together.
While the concept was suitable for parishioners to get to know each other since they may only see other in the pews at church, it’s transferable to any group that may be looking to build a sense of community.
“It doesn’t have to be a church — other organizations or companies could do it,” Nikki said.
Plus, it’s a good time.
“It’s fun from time you open door to the time you finish the meal,” Kennedy said.