This past Sunday marked the start of our Winter Shelter, and the season started off right with a beautiful Shelter Dinner hosted by our Outreach SLG. We had about a dozen members of Old First there to greet our guests, and we all enjoyed the delicious meal headed up by Billi as head chef.
The relaxed atmosphere at our first Shelter Dinner is pretty different from the last time I led the Saturday Breakfast, back on October 24th.
That morning we were blessed (or cursed) to have the entire Penn softball team come to volunteer. The team was great, and we were able to use their extra hands to clean the storage boxes and bed mats that our shelter guests use, but at times I felt like I was just spinning in circles answering questions from different volunteers.
We gave out all eighty tickets for the breakfast within the first fifteen minutes of offering them. People continued to knock on the door long after we announced that we were out of tickets, and when we opened the doors at 9:30 and started serving, we quickly discovered that some of the guests had come in through the front doors of the church, or talked their way in past the two nice softball players who were tasked with turning people away. Regardless of how people got seated, we definitely ended up serving around 90 people.
I don’t say any of this to complain, or to discourage you from volunteering. Far from it! But these two different experiences are very clear examples of the opposite ends of what we try to build every week through our Outreach programs: COMMUNITY.
Every Saturday morning, and several evenings a week, we have the opportunity to build a community that is pretty unique in the Philly Old City. A community of people from diverse class backgrounds, who all come in need of something and all have something to give. The more time I spend in our Outreach programs, the more I feel like a member of this community.
I won’t pretend that all our differences are erased: We never leave our economic privileges at the door, and Old First does these ministries because we live in an economic system that creates vast inequalities in wealth, housing, education, and safety. Maybe one day the differences between us will vanish, but that day is not soon.
Nevertheless, we can be a community. Sometimes community is smooth sailing, and sometimes it storms. Sometimes it is easy, and sometimes it is overwhelming. I am reminded how frequently Jesus fought with his community – disciples, family, crowds of supporters, and ultimately the religious and political authorities of his community. But despite these difficulties, or maybe because of them, we are called to continually invest ourselves in building a new community. And day after day, on stressful Saturday mornings and calm Sunday evenings, we see glimpses of a new community through the Outreach work at Old First.
I’ll leave you with some questions —
~ Where in your life do you see community?
~ Where do you see storms and calm weather in the life of your community?
~ How are you being called to engage in deepening your community?
See you in church,