Musings from the Front Line of the Church
by Joseph Riddick
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Augusta
Yesterday was “Super Saturday” at St. Mark’s Augusta, which meant Addie’s Attic and Everyday Basics were open and in the evening we had our Public Supper. During the day I reflected on our bishop’s question at Diocesan Convention last October: “Where is the front line of your church?” These are some observations about the front line of ministry from yesterday –
~ “Come inside where it is warm. We will be open for distribution in an hour.” People were arriving early and standing patiently in the cold waiting for Everyday Basics and Addie’s Attic to open. Hospitality is to invite people into the warmth and that is what we did. They waited patiently while we did our organizing and sorting.
~”We start the day with prayer and we invite you to join us. Gather in a circle and hold hands while we offer thanks.” The circle was actually sort of an oval as people stood amidst chairs and tables to join in prayer – to be included in the community of believers.
~ “Where is my name badge? Are there only name badges for St. Mark’s folks?” I found the name badge and the person exhibited both a sense of relief as well as a sense of “I didn’t mean to imply that you were excluding me from volunteering.” Deacon Rebecca made new name badges for all of the volunteers at Everyday Basics before she went into surgery this week. It was a reminder that ALL God’s children want to be included.
~ “Where is Adam (a high school student who helped a few times in the fall)?” Someone reported that she had seen Adam last week and that he would be working on Saturdays and not able to help. The volunteers were saddened because they really like Adam and will miss him. Five minutes later Adam walked in and asked, “Can I help?” Not quite like the prodigal son returning but a real sense of joy that this ray of sunshine had come back to help.
~”Can I volunteer sometime?” “Certainly,” I replied. Then this worried look crossed the person’s face. “I want to give back but I also need the supplies I get. Is that possible?” Of course! It made me think about how people in poverty view those of us who help. Do we look privileged? Do we come across as wealthy? How can we make sure that our humble offerings are given as humbly as possible to reduce barriers?
~ ”Hmmm, not too many people today,” I said. “The rush wasn’t too bad.” And yet the people kept coming and coming and coming. We ended the day with probably the largest number of guests we have had since we opened. At 4 pm, I said, “let’s go upstairs to get ready for dinner.” Someone said, “The dining room is closed.” I laughed and said, “I know how to open the door – follow me.” After checking with the kitchen, we poured into the dining room to await the delicious meal while being tempted by the wonderful smells wafting from the kitchen.
~ “You told me I could choose the tables for supper tonight – I know how to do it and it is easy.” I smiled and told him that he was absolutely right. “Remind me of your name,” I said. I chuckled when I realized that I didn’t know his name because I would have remembered him as Joe. I said, “It is the Joe and Joe Show tonight.” He beamed. A few minutes later he came up and asked, “How do I do this?” “How do I choose?” I told him which table was Number 1. He balked, “They are always number 1.” I told him how the people at that table left the dinners and led AA, NA, and Al-Anon groups in the evening and we wanted them fed so they could help other people. “Ahhh, this may be more difficult than I thought.” “By the way, when do we (Joe and Joe) eat?” “After everyone has been fed,” I answered. That was not well received.
~ It was 5 pm and time to start the Public Supper. I introduced Joe as part of the Joe and Joe team for the evening. He beamed when he was recognized. I started by talking about prayers for healing and that we needed to pray for Rebecca, [St. Mark’s deacon]. I called Rebecca on my cell phone and 125 people shouted out, “Get Well, Rebecca.” She told me she couldn’t make out what they said and I had them repeat it. It was spine tingling that these people wanted Rebecca to know how much they loved her and wished her a speedy recovery. After that we invited the birthday and anniversary folks forward to blow out the candles on the chocolate/peanut butter cake Elaine had made. I then said, “Let’s eat.” Joe said, “But Joe, we haven’t said grace and we always say grace before eating at St. Mark’s Church.” Everyone stood and we thanked God for the food, for the volunteers, for the people gathered, for the people not present and for wholeness and wellness for all of God’s people. Then we ate. The youth from the Unitarian Church were fully present preparing food, serving food, waiting tables, passing out Cake Pops and then cleaning up. One of Rebecca’s co-workers made 180 Cake Pops for our dinner guests. They were squares of cake on a lollipop stick. These pops were worthy of being in the finest bakery in Maine. Simply beautiful.
~ The day was winding down. I invited folks to stay and help clean up. A young mother with two boys (4 and 6 years old) had made their first visit to Everyday Basics that afternoon. They went home and then came back for dinner (15 minutes each way in the cold and snow). The boys said, “Mom we want to help. We can stack chairs.” And they did……….
~ I was standing by the bread counter and Joe came up with a gentleman. “Joe, this man needs help with heating oil. Is there any way we can help?” Did you catch the “we can help…..” Not can you help but can we help. Joe was starting to get that ministry is about “we”. All of us working and helping each other.
~ The day was another reminder of why I do ministry at St. Mark’s. It is about the “we” statements, it is about pushing the front line, it is about honoring the dignity of each person, it is about being fully present and alive with God’s people. It is about being physically exhausted but spiritually full as I head home to a house with heat and food on the table.