The program I work under, Servant Year, is a structured year of service to those in need, lessons in Christian formation, and a chance to live with an intentional Christian community with others who also work in various social service capacities. The work can be trying, the stipend we receive can seem a little too small at times, and there are definitely challenges in living within an intentional prayer community as opposed to simply having roommates. However, it has all been worth it if I have truly learned, from this experience, what to be a servant means.
When I tell people about the program I work under, people often make a face at the word “servant.” A servant, I am told, is someone who’s subservient, less important, not a leader, not glamorous. Working for Saint Mark’s and within the program for two months has given me a chance to experience the perspective of someone who is a servant and has shown me the real value of what it means to serve others and God.
On Saturday mornings I have to wake up at 5 AM. I do not want to wake up this early, especially not being a morning person, but the Saint Mark Soup Bowl operates from 7-9 and we need to set up around six. So I wake up, throw my still half-asleep self in the shower, get dressed, and trudge my way to the parish hall where we serve soup. Upon my arrival I am greeted with the task of moving heavy furniture and preparing for the imminent arrival of our guests. At 7, the doors open and suddenly we have crowds of hungry people barge in upon us.
Bringing them food and attempting to meet their needs is challenging, tiring, and sometimes a little heart-breaking. In this line of work you often don’t get thanked (although when you do it is truly heart-warming), you often have people trying to get everything they possibly can out of you, and the people you are trying to help are often in a fragile emotional state which can lead to hostility or rudeness. So, to make a long story short, sometimes after three hours of serving soup, one can feel a little down and a little haggard.
However, every once and awhile I find myself leaving the parish hall, slowly but surely making my way back to my room to nap a good portion of my Saturday away, and a guest of ours will come up to and thank me. He or she will tell me that they are living at a shelter right now and don’t have a kitchen or that they just got fired and having trouble coming up with the cash for a good meal or that their food stamps just got reduced and they’ve needed help making it through the week. They’ll tell me they love the soup and the bread pudding and all week they look forward to coming to Saint Mark’s where they feel welcomed and loved, which for many of our clients, unfortunately, is a rare occurrence.
Sometimes, I’ll have a guest come to the soup bowl for weeks, someone who has had bad experience with strangers and sits alone and week after week they’ll eat by themselves. Then one day they’ll just come in and sit down next to other guests for a good bowl of soup and talk and feel safe, wanted, and loved; a little miracle occurs and all we needed to make it happen was some hot soup, willing hands, and a dependable alarm clock.
The label Christian, much like the word servant, is a word that often gets bad press. Sometimes, in America, when we think of Christians we think of condemnation, we think of the morality police, and a list of religious beliefs and practices that sometimes seems so disconnected from every day life. But to be a Christian really, at its core, is to know that God loves us all and that this love is unfathomable and requires no qualifications. To be a Christian servant is to serve others in making it known to them how much God loves them and wants them. It will all be worth if I can just learn to serve and that’s what I’m doing; one hot bowl of soup at a time.
Don's ministry placement is at Saint Mark's Church as the Outreach Coordinator.