I’m learning names and stories of people and, in return, others are learning my name and my story. But it’s not something that necessarily happens quickly, or even at all. Relationships take commitment and nurturing.
I was serving salad at the soup kitchen the other day when I heard someone shout my name and I looked down the line to see who was trying to get my attention. Jim*, a man who comes to both the soup kitchen and food pantry where I work and whom I have met out and about in downtown New Haven several times, was standing at the end of the line, smiling and waving. When he got to me, I greeted him by name and asked if he wanted salad; he said no, but after a second of thinking, changed his mind and said, “Well, yeah! From you, I’ll take salad!” With those words, and his ever-friendly smile, he was off down the line and into the crowded dining room.
This brief interaction with Jim marked an important transition in the work I’m doing this year: a transition from impersonal interaction into relationship.
One of the most difficult parts of the work I’m doing this year is that I see so many people (probably around 400 different people per week) and only for very brief periods of time. We serve about 200 people each day in the hour and a half that the soup kitchen dining room is open and we serve upwards of 200 people at the food pantry during the hour we’re open on Saturday morning. It’s hard to build relationships when I only see our guests as they’re going through a lunch line at the soup kitchen or through the grocery line at the food pantry, it’s nearly impossible to learn everyone’s names as I’m serving salad and handing out food to hundreds of people.
Thus, my exchange with Jim at the soup kitchen was a sort of holy name-calling in the best possible sense of the word. Hearing my name called out in a crowded room of mostly strangers helped me realize that, though it is a slow process to get to know everyone I see and serve, I am building relationships. I’m learning names and stories of people and, in return, others are learning my name and my story. But it’s not something that necessarily happens quickly, or even at all. Relationships take commitment and nurturing.
In the Holy Eucharist, Rite II, we hear the words “Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace…” I’ve realized that my job this year isn’t just finding volunteers, serving food, or writing grants. My job is constancy. My job is building relationships by being present over and over and over again.
*Names have been changed to ensure privacy