I am a greeter. I stand in the narthex and watch the street. Far down the block I see one of our parishioners. I burst into rain and call out, “Good morning, friend! Welcome!” It’s a radical greeting, but radical is my style.
On Wednesdays, I am also a greeter. Under a canopy in the parking lot of the county building, Juice and I wait with our friends. Often its raining. Sometimes chilly winds steal napkins from the table as we rush to weigh them down with oranges or a ladle. On my vision’s horizon I see someone moving towards us. As he gets closer I recognize his shape, his walk, the color of his hair. “Joshua!” I call out, “I’m so glad to see you!” Just like on Sunday morning, I step out of my shelter and into the rain. In a few steps, Joshua is in my arms.
My heart falls open; I feel his heart. Through the thick layers of damp cloth, through the smell of wood smoke, I hold him. Someone’s child. an infant, a boy, a man. God’s child; he becomes mine. A few months ago, this man was a stranger. Now, he is my friend. Our hearts beat against one another. I say, “I love you, Joshua,” because I do. I say it with my mouth, I say it with my arms, I say it when I pour from my ladle a rainbow of color into his bowl, living food made with love.
It started last December. The closing of the local homeless shelter, Love Overwhelming, was almost certain and the temperatures at night were beginning to fall below freezing. I couldn’t stop crying. After days of tears, Juice and I made a giant pot of chili and put it in the trunk of our car. We drove around town looking for misplaced people living out in the cold. Chili with sour cream and cheese, bread and gingernaps. A few friends gave me money to buy hand warmers. Juice burst from the car at each stop, “Let me give!” he would cry. Later, when we shared the stories from that night, some people got excited. They gave us money and said, “Do it, again.”
Soon, with the help of donations and willing hands in the kitchen, we were delivering weekly meals to Love Overwhelming. At first, I thought I would leave my pot and go. But the night manager warned I might not see my pot again, so I stayed to serve the food. It was then that I discovered this ministry reached beyond providing a hearty, healthy meal. It was about relationships. Community. Friendship.
Week after week, we returned. I took our new friends on a culinary world tour. Morocco, India, Turkey, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Spain. Bowls full of rich flavor and color were served with love. I began to know the people we were feeding. I heard their stories as I ladled out rainbows. Red, orange, yellow, green. “We love it when you come,” they told us, “Your food tastes like love.”
The last night the shelter was open we brought Syrian stew. “Erika’s last supper!” our friends all cried. I promised them it was not. We would just have to eat outside. The very next Wednesday, we were back. Along with friends from the community and with the help of C-HOPE, our Wednesday meals continued. We stand together each Wednesday in a palace of the Kingdom, a palace that breaks apart and comes together in bursts of hastily set up tables and tents. It rises up and falls away like the rhythm of the breath, the great lungs of Christ’s living family, breathing life into life.
Now, thanks to Pastor Vonda McFadden of the Kelso United Methodist Church, we are moving our ministry indoors. She has opened up the dining facilities of the Presbyterian Church on Academy Street to our Wednesday meals and is willing to work with others who want to provide food to expand this effort to four days a week. Wednesday, May 3, will be the first time I sit down with my friends at a table and eat off of an actual plate. Some of my friends haven’t had that experience in years.
On the way to Emmaus, two encountered Christ on the road. They didn’t recognize him then, but he was with them. Christ is also walking with us on this journey. He is our companion as we come together with those forgotten ones he is guiding us to love and care for. When I hold Joshua, Joshua holds me, and Christ wraps his arms around us both.