Donny began “How you all doing today? Who has something they’re sorry for today?” And there it was.
The Holy Spirit was in the house. It was palpable. I just didn’t know it yet.
A little earlier on that chilly, wet afternoon, I parked the car and found my way up the stairway marked with yellow. It was oddly quiet inside. Finding our way through the back hall into the kitchen, my 2 friends and I discovered folks standing around a prep table donned in hairnets and aprons. They looked ready. But no one was doing anything just yet. I needed to get started.
One of my responses to nervousness is to let my tasky side take over. And unexpectedly, I was pretty nervous the afternoon I went to the Erie City Mission to participate in the first joint venture between St. Marks and St. Stephens for a Saturday dinner. I did not know the people from St. Marks well. I had never been to the Erie City Mission (ECM). And I had never worked in a commercial kitchen. So though I was excited about this outreach, I was antsy, too.
We spent a few moments in introductions and then the work got underway. A few plated desserts. Some sliced buns for the barbecue. Others rolled the silverware and napkins. Shortly, the amazing Jackie Krukowski arrived. She leads the kitchen efforts at ECM. The buzz in the kitchen grew. We were all eager to be a part of this ministry. With initiative, teamwork and Jackie’s supervision, we were ready to serve with time to spare.
I had volunteered to lead the blessing. You might think that was the source of my nerves, but it was really a very small factor. I’m a big ham. Donny, the greeter and coordinator out front, prepped me. He would talk first then I would start the prayers. To be honest, I was glad to have a warm-up act.
That’s when Donny began with his “How you all doing today? Who has something they’re sorry for today?” And I felt the Holy Spirit.
Every person in that cafeteria looked tired– a bit worn by life. Most of them were in jackets, wet from hoofing it in the cold rain. All but one of them were men. The singular young woman raised her hand to answer Donny’s question. She could not have been 20 years old. She started slowly. She said how sorry she was for how she had hurt her family, particularly her father. She described her circumstances, which included drug use, the preterm loss of a child and homelessness. She was in so much pain that she couldn’t stop talking. I was unsure of how to move us along. Donny, at the ready, approached me and said “Can you go with her into another room? Can you spend some time with her? Listen?”
All I could think was “I don’t know what to say.” But wait. She needed someone to listen. I had to lead the prayer, so I turned to another volunteer and said “Can you go sit with her? Spend some time listening?” Her response told me that she was not a social worker, counselor or clergy. In fact, none of us were. But we could all listen. She said yes and Jackie showed them to a room where they could talk.
We said our prayers, then Donny organized the tray line. We began serving and, in no time, needed to start the dishes. The guests were so kind and gracious. One guest told me about a place where the young woman might find help. I shared it with Jackie, and she marched off with purpose. Another said, “How can that father turn his back on that girl? I have 2 daughters and I would do anything for them.” He winced and walked away with tears in his eyes.
Finally there was a break for Jackie and she asked me what was going on with that young girl. She had missed the opening. I briefly told her what had happened. And in a flash she responded with “That’s God’s work right there.” That’s when I knew it. That’s when I understood the palpable change in the air from earlier.
We were a group of people from 2 churches. We just wanted to do some outreach. We knew that the ECM still had some Saturdays where they needed meals. We came together not knowing much about each other. We laughed. We enjoyed each other. We got the work done. I’m guessing nobody expected the experience with that young woman. But I am pretty sure it’s safe to say that when we left, we knew it was God’s work. We had been given a chance to help a few folks feel better for a few hours. Lucky us.
I am a lowly student of human behavior. I continue to search for my path in life and what God’s plan is for me. And there is so much I do not know. But I believe that on that day we were each agents of the Holy Spirit.
Maybe that is what the nervousness was about.
Danielle Bane, St. Stephen’s, Fairview