Two mornings last week and two mornings this week I’ve been able to volunteer in midtown at a soup kitchen out of St. Paul’s House in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, and it’s been good. Many of the guests that arrive each morning for breakfast or food pantry or clothing pantry are familiar faces, who regularly visit St. Paul’s. Each morning they serve coffee and have some sort of worship service before breakfast, often singing a few hymns. It seems that the older, most familiar hymns are the favorite among the guests who come, and less modern Christian worship. The love of the old and familiar kind of gives me warm fuzzies. I like things old and familiar.
It’s also been good for me to think about ministry to the homeless a bit. I remember sitting through a session for Fellowship Group leaders on ways to help get our FG’s involved in more regular volunteering, and homeless ministry was one topic of discussion. One of the things we discussed was how, in addition to physical poverty, many homeless people also lack community and relationships, are often treated as though they are invisible to people around them. They often lack choices. One of the pastors at Redeemer, Scott, tells a story about a lady who asked him for food, and he went into a nearby deli and came out with a bagel for her. She said “oh, I don’t want a bagel, I’d really love an egg salad.” I’ve had experiences similar to this, and my reaction often tends to be to think to myself beggars can’t be choosers. I’ve posted something similar before. The pastor returned to the store and got her an egg salad, which was $5 more expensive. When he came back out with her egg salad, she said “Thank you so much. I’m sorry, I know the egg salad was more expensive, but my teeth are too weak to chew a bagel.” He was struck with conviction for his initial reaction which was similar to mine, and also about how it can be ministry to those less fortunate to simply give them the power to choose little things, even if their larger situation is still quite complicated.
And so, at St. Paul’s when they hand out boxed salads and sandwiches donated from a nearby deli, it’s neat to see an excess and variety of each, and to see people be able to choose the type of sandwich and salad they want to take with them for lunch later on in the day. It always makes me think of Scott’s story.
Each person who comes in those doors has a story: a family, a childhood, a series of experiences that have led them to where they are… most of them are probably messy and painful. And I’m thinking the only way to effectively minister to them is to be a regular presence, committed to helping, to listen and offer encouragement, to be ready to give connections to places people can go if they are serious about getting off the streets… and I think St. Paul’s does all of that, with Jesus as their reason. It’s been great seeing what they do, and getting my feet wet. I don’ t know if I can make it a regular part of my schedule, but its good to know one place I can go for reminders about my self, my God, and His love for those less fortunate than me who are (literally, sometimes) right on my doorstep.