Why Volunteer?

October 12, 2019

“Whatever community organization, whether it’s a women’s organization, or fighting for racial justice … you will get satisfaction out of doing something to give back to the community that you never get in any other way.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My husband had been volunteering for a year at our church’s Friday morning breakfast version of a “soup kitchen.” He encouraged me to join him. “See what it’s like,” he said. My reply, “As a minister, I volunteer 24/7. No thank you.” Finally, after some more nudging, I decided to give it a try.

It was winter and the place was overly crowed with dozens of house-less and hungry people. The visuals, sounds and smells were a bit of a turn off. I admit it. I was judgmental. What sealed the deal for me ever returning was when I was asked to walk a disheveled woman down a long hallway to the bathrooms. Alone. I attempted small talk but she wasn’t having it. I suspected a meth addiction and thought it best to not engage, so we walked in silence.

I stood outside the bathroom for several minutes. During that time my monkey mind started creating all sorts of stories. Was she using drugs? Did she hide a gun? Is going to kill herself or me? It took a lot of effort to stay centered, grounded and focused. She emerged after about 10 minutes. We walked in silence as we both returned to the kitchen area. Later, a volunteer told me that 10 minutes in the bathroom is sometimes the only alone time a homeless person gets. I was humbled by that reality but still feel like I was not a fit for this type of volunteerism. “They don’t need my fear or judgements,” I professed.

Fast forward to last summer. I had been in a funk for several months due to many deaths, a threatened lawsuit over a story I wrote, even a stalker making allegations against my ministry and one of our ministers. My husband watched me wallow in self-pity. One sunny Friday morning, he again invited me to join him as a volunteer for the breakfast kitchen. “It’ll get you outside of yourself. Please give it another try.” My thought—Oh why not?

My life took a sudden turn on the upward spiral that day. The love in the room, from the volunteers and most of the “guests,” was palpable. I had a grand time serving English muffins with cheese, refilling cereal boxes, doing dishes, and cleaning up. But most of all it was the connections. Anam Caras connecting, soul friends meeting for 90 minutes of service. We, the volunteers, serving the guests. The guests serving us with their presence, many expressing gratitude. Even the non-verbal guests, some mentally ill and some drug affected, made occasional eye contact. There’s no paycheck or reward in the world when those moments happen. That, to me, is the Christ Consciousness.

Last Friday, as I drove to my weekly volunteer appointment, I had the following thoughts.

I woke up to an alarm on my already charged iPhone.
I had shelter, bedding and clothes.
I took a hot shower in my bathroom with the furnace going.
I wore (almost) clean clothes.
I had breakfast with gourmet coffee.
I drove in a car filled with gas, the heat on, including seat warmers.
I parked and pondered.

In a heart beat I could be any one of our kitchen guests. I am so blessed!

If I profess Oneness, which I do, then I know I am one with everyone in that overly crowded room at my church. I get why my beloved spiritual home, First Baptist Church (American Baptist) states that we are a Matthew 25 church: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Over these past few months, I’ve become acquainted with one of the guests who has the same name as my friend who died in July. There’s a sweet family with 4 little kids. I now get hugs from them. When I’m in downtown McMinnville doing errands or meeting a friend for lunch, I get waves from some of the guests that are perceived by others as annoying homeless trash.

We are living in trying times. It’s very easy to wallow. Complain. Make excuses. Shut down and isolate. Poor meeeeeee! I challenge you. If you are in those murky waters, like I was last summer, then get out of yourself and do something nice for someone else. Connect! And daily, give thanks for all that you have. You are alive. You are awake. You are the holy one.

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