Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie has a reputation for hosting incredible dinner parties for friends and for people in her congregation. Her guests always praise her cooking, but last month, after serving one of her largest dinners yet, she received the highest of compliments: The dinner guests practically ran to the buffet table when it was time for seconds.
“That is high praise indeed. No one has stampeded at my other dinner parties,” Ritchie said.
The dinner party was part of a day-long celebration for Horizon Prison Initiative participants, staff, and volunteers at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Each of the 12 Horizon households shared information about various faith and holiday traditions before sitting down to break bread together.
Ritchie is a minister at the North Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Lewis Center in Central Ohio. Each December, the church holds a special collection to support people during the holidays. For the past two years, the congregation has adopted incarcerated women in the Horizon program. The result? A healthy, delicious home-cooked meal for people who are working to change their lives.
Dinner for 100 takes hours of planning. Dinner for 100 inside a prison takes hours and hours more. Ritchie said she wanted to serve festive food that would survive the drive to Marysville and still taste good. Her menu turned out to be spot-on: ham, vegetable lasagna, roasted vegetables with balsamic glaze, clementines, and fresh salad with cranberries, walnuts, and feta cheese.
“My 2007 Prius was packed from floor to ceiling, and I can still smell a bit of balsamic in it a few weeks later,” she said. “Playing with food is a passion I hold. The women were so grateful, which made it so much fun.”
For dessert, Ritchie provided 200 cookies, and Horizon Outside Sister volunteers brought dozens more to the feast. There were no leftovers.
Ritchie first connected with Horizon Prison Initiative in 2016, when the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly selected Horizon as the recipient of its special offering. Their
generous donation topped $60,000, which allowed Horizon to open its first program for women at ORW. This year, Ritchie is volunteering with Horizon as an Outside Sister.
Why does a busy minister go to so much trouble for people in prison?
“I don’t see these women as a different class of human beings. Most of them are simply victims of their circumstances,” she said. “There but for the grace of God go any one of us.”