Sharing the Gospel

The most important sermon I ever heard was one my friend Lloyd preached more years ago than either of us would like to admit. It was about sharing the Gospel. Lloyd said that one can't expect a person to hear the Good News if that person is hungry, if that person is homeless, if that person isn't adequately clothed. Meet those practical needs first was his message. Today I was delighted to spend a couple of hours among people who live out my friend's sermon.

My neighbor and my sister attend the church next-door to the one I belong to. They are both active members of the Peace and Justice Committee and recently they have been going downtown to center city Philadelphia to do some work with homeless men. When a family emergency called Maggie out of town this week, impulsively I asked my sister if an untrained volunteer might be able to fill in for Maggie. Yes, she might.

So we took the train downtown (and wandered around a bit savoring the enticing aromas in the Reading Terminal Market) and then reported to St. John's Hospice which is located very close to the beautiful new Convention Center. The brief orientation tour provided by Becca, one of the few paid staff members, provided a wealth of information about the services this hospice provides. And the services are multiple and varied: clothing, showers, beds, food, private rooms for medically fragile individuals are among them. The hot lunch is served five days a week, year-round. Thousands of casseroles are prepared by participating congregations, and every last bit is consumed. In addition to casserole, guests can choose among fruit, vegetables, and dessert. Juice and water are amply provided. The smells coming from the kitchen were wonderful.

There were more volunteers than anticipated (turns out Wells Fargo grants some employees time off from work to provide community service) and I was assigned to tray set-up. Others were on the line serving casseroles or on the floor, refilling beverage options. There is room for sixty-four men to eat at a time and the service is offered from noon until one o'clock. Some days as many as 300 men come for lunch (we fed 236 today) and for some, this is the only meal they will have today. Clad in the provided apron, gloves and hairnet (and feeling a bit like Gladys Ormphby), we put disposable cup, plate and cutlery on blue trays and handed them to the guests with a smile and a greeting. I was surprised at how many of the men made eye contact (I did not anticipate this) and nearly every one said "thank you." Most preferred to have the tray handed to them, but some liked to pick the tray up from the table. A second plate was provided upon request. Some of the guests appeared to be dressed too warmly, wearing sweaters or coats, but I realized that storage of possessions is a problem.

Homeless men come in many colors and many ages. Every one that I met today was pleasant and polite and appreciative of a good meal. It felt like a privilege to be serving them. I'd love to go back and do it again.


Quiltdivajulie said…
Our younger son worked a great deal with homeless agencies during his first year of social work studies. Some of the men and women were as you described. Sadly there were many who were in great need of mental healthcare and emotional stability. The needs are SO great.
Always wonderful to be able to assist others.......
Barbara Anne said…
Perhaps you gave these men a greater gift than food. You gave each of the men the gift of really seeing him as he reached your station. I remember such a person once said to me that nobody really saw her anymore.

Synthia said…
I just finished reading a wonderful book Same Kind of Different As Me that I believe you would enjoy. It's a true story, written by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, about a black man, the homeless and love. I highly recommend it.
i have volunteered at soup kitchens in the past; all the guests are appreciative, polite and more than is a humbling experience...took my daughter when she was young and in the "i want" stage....she had to learn that there are always those in more dire straits and what the truly important needs are....i consider it an honor to serve those for whom daily life is more than a challenge...
LizA. said…
The church we used to attend prior to moving hosts a Monday nite supper. It is a joint effort by several area churches and food is provided by local stores. The start cooking and setting up around mid-morning and when th open the doors late afternoon there is always a long line of homeless and down and out. They are also sent away with bags of non-perishable food.

The number of attendees jumped considerably when the new Regional Justice Center was opens nearby.

Here in Central Washington our church provides weekend bags of food for about 40 elmtary school children who wouldn't otherwise have something to eat. Our church youth sort and bag the food and they often make a lot of donations themselves.