Luke chapter 10 tells the story of the sisters Mary and Martha of Bethany, who provided hospitality to Jesus and the disciples. At Oconee Street UMC, we had our very own Mary and Martha who embodied that spirit of hospitality through their work at Our Daily Bread: Mary Weisenburg, who coordinated Our Daily Bread for 14 years, and Martha Collins, who was a long-term volunteer there.
I first met Mary Weisenburg in 1996, when we were both part of a feminist theology reading group. At that time, Mary was the coordinator of Our Daily Bread, then housed here at Oconee Street. A retired social worker who held a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Mary had moved to Athens from Virginia, where she had focused her career on caring and advocating for vulnerable women and children. Her unwavering commitment to her clients sometimes got her into trouble. For instance, she once lost her job as director of a shelter for victims of domestic violence because she wouldn’t encourage the women there to go back to their abusive husbands (!), a story covered by the Washington Post in 1984.
At Our Daily Bread, Mary ran the day-to-day operations with a combination of compassion and toughness—I once heard her described as a cross between Mother Teresa and a drill sergeant—ensuring a welcoming and safe place for anyone to come for a meal. She also managed the church’s fellowship meals; for years, every first Sunday found her setting up beforehand and clearing up afterwards. Mary retired from Our Daily Bread in 2009, at 80, and passed away in July at 93.
Martha Collins, who died last week at 64, also found her calling at Our Daily Bread, where she was a regular volunteer during Mary’s tenure and beyond. Like Mary, she had a no-nonsense attitude, pitching in and doing what needed to be done without waiting to be asked. At Martha’s funeral service, the Rev. Lisa Caine, who directed Our Daily Bread from 2001-2010, described how Martha was the person who greeted her and showed her how to find the kitchen on her very first day. Martha also helped out at church on any occasion that involved feeding people, from monthly fellowship meals to homecomings to Vacation Bible School snack times.
Martha and Mary both came to join Oconee Street through our connection with Our Daily Bread. Although we no longer host that ministry in our building, we have remained involved and have even increased our commitment: Oconee Street volunteers, including our young adult group, now cook and serve meals there twice a month, carrying Mary and Martha’s legacy forward. In fact, we’ve increased our service to the point that we’ve exceeded our annual budget for this ministry.
During this season of Thanksgiving, we invite the Oconee Street community to honor the memories of our own saints Mary and Martha. On Sunday, Nov. 20, we will take a special collection to support Oconee Street’s participation in Our Daily Bread. If you would like to contribute, please write “ODB offset” on the PayPal comment or check memo.
On behalf of the Missions committee, thank you!