Bill and Teresa Axten
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AMESBURY -- Those preparing the final arrangements for a loved one have many things on their mind. Teresa Axten tries to make sure that they have one less thing to worry about.
Almost 10 years ago, Axten noticed that following a funeral at her parish, the family would often have a collation in the church hall.
“These people would either have to have the food catered, or else they would have to make it all themselves and bring it to the hall,” she explained.
Axten, together with a group of six other parishioners from Holy Family Parish met to find a way to alleviate the stress on the grieving family.
“We all thought, ‘We can do this. We can provide the food for the collations,’” she said.
According to Axten, the next step was to speak to their pastor, Father John Gentleman.
Father Gentleman “was really enthusiastic about the idea,” she recalled.
Today, around 25 women are part of this ministry in her parish, she said. And the feedback has been wonderful.
“We just wanted to help during a difficult time in people’s lives,” Axten said. “It has really been wonderful.”
According to Axten, this group has also helped bring about a sense of community among the volunteers, particularly when Holy Family was formed in 1998 as the merger of two Amesbury parishes -- St. Joseph and Sacred Heart.
“This really has been one of the best things to bring the two parishes together,” she said. “All these women working together -- it’s been a wonderful experience. I love it.”
Although they charge a fee, most of the money simply covers the cost of the food.
“We try to keep the price so that people can afford it,” she said. “Our goal is that everyone who wants it can afford it.”
In exchange, the women make sandwiches, meatballs, salads, baked beans, sliced deli platters, coffee and provide all the paper goods.
The demand “is sporadic,” Axten said, noting that “we are not looking for business, we simple provide a service.”
Axten, 80, has been a parishioner at Holy Family for most of her life. Axten recalled that, as a child, she often desired to volunteer for parish events, but felt she couldn’t because she did not attend the parish school
“I recall saying that I’d love to get involved, but I never felt I was allowed to,” she said.
That all changed in the 1960s. It was then that Axten, together with Bill, her husband, began to involve themselves more in parish life -- volunteering at bean suppers, holiday fairs and other parish-sponsored events. Even though Bill is not Catholic, Axten said she never felt that to be a barrier.
In fact, she said, her husband is so often with her in church and at parish events that most parishioners have no idea he is not Catholic.
While raising her six children, Axten taught religious education. Afterward, she became the person who decorated the church for holy days.
Today, preparing the collations consumes much of her volunteer time, although she and her husband still pitch in at the parish whenever they can.
“The good Lord has been so good to us,” she said. “It has been great for us to be able to give back to the Lord in a small way.”