O taste and see that the Lord is good!
For as long as I’ve known her, Shirley DiRenzo has been feeding people. My first experience at her dinner table was about thirty-three years ago when my older sister Marcia let me tag along to an evening with new friends, Shirley and Tony. At sixteen, I was shy and awkward, wary of new situations. Tony and Shirley immediately disarmed me with their contagious good humor and warm welcome. I believe Shirley served stuffed shells with homemade sauce on the side, and I cleaned my plate . . . twice.
Shirley, a petite bundle of energy with a sunny smile, is a Maine native. She met New Yorker Tony in college. They married in 1973 and moved to Germantown, New York, near Tony’s family. Good friends Joan and Bill Andrews witnessed to Tony and Shirley and encouraged them to attend a Bible study taught by Morgan Jones. Every week after study, they stayed late, plying their host Cal Lynk and his son Jeff with questions about the Scriptures, faith, salvation.
Eventually, Tony and Shirley each responded to the call of the Holy Spirit to confess sin and accept Christ. Then the young couple joined Clermont Bible Church, threw themselves into ministry, and never looked back.
They began working with the church youth group. The first weekend youth retreat I ever attended was Tony and Shirley’s first, also. And Shirley was pregnant with her first child.
Soon Tony was teaching a teen Bible study. In those days before seatbelt laws, he would load up his little car with teens—two in a seat, on each other’s laps, hanging out the windows—and make his way to Valatie, about thirty minutes north of Germantown. (According to legend, only once did a teenager fall out of the car, and he sustained no injuries.) Tony showed a thorough grasp of Scripture and patiently answered questions for the group who gathered each Monday night.
The DiRenzo house became a hang-out for some of us teens. We would spend the night, babysit their kids, absorb their attention. And they always fed us. Dinner might be homemade pizza, spaghetti with clam sauce, or cereal. No matter how little they had, the DiRenzos shared with everyone God brought into their lives.
Tony and Shirley worked with youth for twelve years and, along the way, gave birth to three kids of their own, young Tony, Tara, and Joe. A lifestyle of hospitality was reflected in their oldest son’s first words. While still in his highchair, the happy toddler would lisp to the many people who showed up at the door, “C’mon in. Stay to supper?”
After youth work, Tony became an elder of the church, and Shirley concentrated on women’s ministry. She could make any gathering into an occasion. Once she “crowned” the woman who’d been teaching junior church Queen for a Day and held a party in her honor. Valentine’s Day became a time for Shirley to share her blessings. She would purchase gourmet chocolates for friends who no longer had husbands to fuss over them. She often hosted dinners for the entire church, just another effort to make us feel like family.
Though Shirley knew her way around a kitchen, she amused us at times with her innocent misuse of language. Her mom’s second language was English, so certain expressions and colloquialisms had not translated well in their household. I remember Shirley saying to me once, “Renee, I have a chicken to pluck with you.” I had to think about that one. “You mean a bone to pick?” I asked her. She replied, “Weren’t you listening? That’s what I said!”
Tony and Shirley were early supporters of the Christian education movement. They sacrificed to put their children through Northern Dutchess Christian School and enabled the teachers through encouragement and giving. They introduced me to the school, which hired me to teach English, and I stayed on for nineteen years. During that time, I was blessed to teach young Tony and Tara in my classes.
It was Shirley’s idea to begin a ladies’ Bible study. Though it had probably been sixteen years since my days in Tony’s teen study, I again joined a Monday night group led by a DiRenzo. We met at Nancy Clum’s house, and Shirley fed us—this time by helping us appreciate our spiritual food, the meat of the Word. Others who joined the group were JoAnn Smith, Marge Brecht, Clara Gierka, Chris Moon, Felicia Webber, Katheleen Talledge, Suze Couchey, Rose Elliot, and Lynn MacPherson. Together we learned the great truths of the Bible with guidance from two special ladies, Shirley and author Cynthia Heald.
During that study, several of us were passing around the Mark of the Lion books by Francine Rivers. The first two books tell the story of Hadassah, a young Jewish girl, daughter of a prophet, who is sold into slavery. The Roman family she serves grows to love her but can’t protect her from being sentenced to the lion’s den when she becomes a Christian. Her impact on the family members changes their lives. (If you have never read these books, check them out: A Voice in the Wind (Mark of the Lion #1), An Echo in the Darkness (Mark of the Lion #2))
Shirley responded to the novels with characteristic enthusiasm. After reading the first one, she exclaimed, “If I had lived back then, Hadassah and I would’ve been best friends.” My sister loved needling her with, “You know she’s not real, right? We call that fiction.”
Sadly for us New Yorkers, Tony and Shirley moved away in 1996, after twenty-two years in Germantown. They ended up in Augusta, Georgia, as Tony changed careers from insurance agent to financial planner with Wells Fargo. They joined First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, where Shirley worked as a ministry assistant for the music leaders—until someone discovered her background in youth work. Then the youth pastor moved her to the youth ministry staff. Tony and Shirley quickly became vital, supportive members of their new church family.
And from her country kitchen in Augusta, Shirley kept right on feeding people. So much so that she left her office job and began a catering business with partner Kathy Boyles, an enterprise which they named Tastefully Done. The two women handle bigger events several weekends each month and smaller events during the week. They are as busy as they wish to be, even having had to turn away business, and all without advertising.
A typical week might find Shirley and Tony meeting with friends from Bible study. They recently finished The Truth Project, a Focus on the Family study on building a biblical world view. Next on their agenda would be, babysitting the grandkids (they have five, with one more on the way) and working out in the local gym (“I have to keep him young,” Shirley says about Tony).
Shirley might end up hosting out of town guests, rearranging her schedule to help someone in need, cooking dinner for the church singles, donating and preparing food for a local ministry, and walking a panicked groom through a rehearsal dinner.
Tony and Shirley also faithfully attend church services, crediting First Pres as the body that taught them what worship really means. And no week would be complete for them without gathering the family together for Sunday dinner.
I recently spent an evening with the DiRenzos. As I visited with Tony, Shirley, and the kids, I found myself thinking of a quote I heard once that “broken bread feeds many.” It seems to me that Tony and Shirley have allowed themselves to be broken and used up to feed the needs of those around them.
I could not hope to convey the stories of all the people Tony and Shirley have befriended, encouraged, supported, and loved. Maybe you can help.
Please leave a comment on this blog post for Tony and Shirley to read. I’d love for you to share your own story, but even a simple word of thanks for their friendship would be great. Bless Tony and Shirley with your words of encouragement. (Note: I will be traveling for the next few days, but your comments will show up on this post as soon as I can access a computer to approve them!)