Hopeless, rejected, hurt, hungry and homeless they turn to St. Laurence Chapel, knowing that there, and they will have a safe place to be during the day. It is a place where men and women can take a shower, get clean clothing, and receive two meals every weekday; all this without judgment and without meeting any of the eligibility criteria that structured social service agencies usually demand. On Wednesdays and Sundays, the guests of St. Laurence Chapel feast on God’s word as well as a meal as Churches near the Chapel take turns in leading a Eucharistic service.
Someone unaware of the precious spiritual and social treasure that is St. Laurence Chapel, may deridingly ask, “Why waste time with bums, addicts and low life folks? It is just a way for well-off folk to feel good about themselves,” I once heard someone remark. However, serving at St. Laurence Chapel is far from being paternalistic. Very soon, we discover that in serving we are served. Below, I share with you two experiences from the ministry of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church at the Chapel:
On this Sunday, we had two teams; the first one brought the meal and prepared for serving while the second team participated in the worship service. Men and women, some half asleep, some looking sad and dejected, all guests of the Chapel strolled into the building and headed for the Chapel Service. Some enter out of a sense of obligation to sit through the service to receive a meal, while others come with a deep sense of devotion to God. Most repeat guests recognize the service order and some participate while others observe.
As the service is about to end people begin moving towards the door leading to the area where the meal is to be served so that they could get close to the head of the line. This Sunday, as the Service ended, my attention was drawn to a young man who had no hands standing in the line to receive a meal. Both arms appeared to have been amputated just below the elbows. I watched in amazement as he got closer to the food table and the Church servers looked at each other, astounded. How do you give a meal to someone without arms? One server graciously offered to help but two men who had already received their meal, intervened and without any hesitation, one declared, “thank you; its okay, we got him!” They took a meal for the man without hands, led him to a table and proceeded to feed him. We looked at each other, servers and those being served alike and for one moment, our lives were communally transformed! We all tasted of the Kingdom of God where love of others is alive and active.
On a separate occasion, the service was going on and we waited to serve the meal a guest came in.. This guest was barefooted, with tattered, dirty clothing. He walked unsteadily into the Chapel and sat in a middle pew by himself, holding his head down. He remained silent, yet his body shook in an upward and downward rhythm throughout the service. Silently, I wondered if the service and our exposition of the Word of God made any sense to him. As if he could read my thoughts, he came over to where I was standing when the service ended. He looked up and handed me four nickels that he had taken from his pocket. He said; “I want you to have this.” Puzzled, I asked him. “Why?” He replied, “two nickels are my offering for the Church and the other two are for the poor.” This was truly the story of the widow’s mite (Mk.12:41-44) re-enacted in a very practical and spiritually moving manner in 2013! God did make sense to him! I beamed with joy all day for the great faith of this man who had been alienated from society but not from our Lord.
Over and over we see glimpses of the face of God at St. Laurence Chapel, both in the Church servers’ spirit of unconditional love as well as in the graciousness of guests, who for a few moments find relief from the hurt and pain and distress of life. A general spirit of joy and goodness prevail during our time there. I pray that the homeless see Christ in us as we see Him in them.
So why spend time with bums, addicts and low life folks? Take a trip to St. Laurence Chapel. Serve and learn with those individuals who live on the margins of our society. Be filled with the precious graces of our Lord who transforms lives everyday, sometimes in the most unlikely places when we least expect it.