I have a lot to talk about today so I think we’ll end up with two blog posts this week. My holiday cooking tips will be on the food blog. The other thing today is to share with you a project I’ve been working on for a few months.
I’ve discovered the most interesting, fun and easy ministry a church can do. And I am so enthralled by the idea I found myself thinking that our denominational magazine, Presbyterians Today, should publish an article on it to spread the word. I watched the magazine in anticipation. It wasn’t happening. Then I realized maybe that someone was me. duh.
In a nutshell, a handful of sturdy members of our congregation decided somebody needed to do something positive for the homeless and marginalized in our neighborhood. They wanted to serve a free breakfast for the community. They wanted a ministry free of the usual red tape and committee culture of motions and reports. They wanted to Just Do It.
We got the idea from a couple of friends at the First Presbyterian Church in Whitesboro. A group of us went to watch them at work. It’s so incredibly easy it makes you laugh. You just start cooking and people will show up. Maybe you post a flyer around town for a couple of weeks. After that, word of mouth will insure you get all the customers you need.
Then I was curious about where Whitesboro came up with the idea. They got it from Bobby Connell’s son who was one of the founders of the Breakfast at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. They get to go by the catchy acronym of BACH. Cathedral of Hope is one of the largest churches in the country predominantly for the GLBT community. Their building stands near a large pocket of Dallas’ homeless so they have a built-in clientele. They’ve been doing this for five years now and the ministry is as alive as it was the first day. I wanted to visit the Mother Ship to see their operation in action.
That’s how I ended up going to breakfast last Saturday at BACH. I found the church parking lot easily enough but it was a huge building and I wondered which door to use. The question was almost immediately answered when I looked around and found several homeless-looking gents with backpacks headed for a door. I decided to follow them. That’s when I realized how close to homeless I can look if I take the notion. Lack of attention to hairstyle and clothing has its uses. I felt like I blended right in.
When I met Michael Connell at the door I recognized him immediately because he looks so much like his dad. He wanted to escort me straight to the kitchen so I could see how things worked. But I wanted to spend some time first as a guest, eating and visiting. The kitchen details could come later. The food was great: eggs, sausage, pancakes, juice and coffee. I ended up wandering all around the place. I watched the barber cut hair in the Narthex, watched a pastor administer communion and hugs at the Chancel, watched the backpack check station guarding the belongings, sometimes the only thing on earth these people owned, and then finally I watched how seamlessly the kitchen runs, the plates and cups washed by hand, the pancakes cooked 24 at a time in four rows of six identical pancakes. This is what I love about being a journalist—you get to poke your nose into everywhere and ask a lot of questions with no apology.
I will write in another post about the To Do’s of throwing breakfast for 250.
But today’s message is a different one. As usual, God threw me a curve ball and the message turned up being something totally different than I expected to receive.
Towards the end of the morning I ended up sitting beside a young man who shared his story with me. About half-way through the details, he interjected to plead with me that I couldn’t publish any of what he was telling me. I told him I wouldn’t remember any of it if I didn’t write it down and as he could see I didn’t have my notepad out. People on the margin of society had been betrayed way too many times but he said several times, more to himself than to me, that I seemed like a nice lady.
I didn’t need to write down the specific details of his story in order to remember them because it boiled down to a one tender conclusion: he is lonely. He’s not mentally ill or shiftless. He’s not homeless or jobless. He is not uneducated. He is not unlovable. He is merely loveless at the moment. This guy appears to live in the mainstream of society but harbors a secret that no one would ever know unless he shares it himself. Through no fault of his own he ended up an outsider with a family who was less than helpful. His life has been spent with a great deficit of hugs and understanding. Things are getting a little better for him not necessarily because he has found a solution but mostly because he has stopped trying to care.
I don’t know where he will spend Thanksgiving but I know he is the kind of person who would be welcomed at my table. I gave him my email address and hope he will contact me. I can see myself being his friend.
Where was Jesus in this picture? I looked around the room at breakfast several times wondering who Jesus was dressed up like that day. I am convinced Jesus dresses up like a homeless man from time to time to make the rounds of His churches to check them out. Whenever I am around people in despair I know Jesus is there. As I wrote last week, even a sixth grader knows that Jesus shows up whenever two or more people gather in His name. Maybe Jesus was the guy I talked to in line for food who rides the bus all over Dallas and knows the best places to eat and where to sleep. Maybe Jesus was in the kitchen making pancakes in perfect rows on the griddle, 24 at a time. That seems like the way Jesus would make pancakes.
The next morning during worship my mind drifted the way it sometimes does, usually to grocery store lists or home improvement projects. Out of nowhere the thought popped up that maybe Jesus had been in me at breakfast. He might have climbed into my heart without me even noticing it.
It sounds pretty egotistical to think I could represent Jesus Christ; that I might be that capable. But just as I looked around for someone to write an article about the community breakfasts then realized that someone was me, maybe when I scanned the room for someone to represent Christ at BACH it ended up being me.
As I listened to my new friend a calm sense of gentle care settled upon me in such a natural way that it might have been God’s Holy Spirit leading the way. Maybe the love I felt didn’t come from me at all. Maybe sometimes Jesus doesn’t dress up as a homeless man but as a grandmother who has more than enough love available.
And I figured this out the following morning even before our last hymn:
Here I am Lord! Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord If you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.