I have tried my best to tell the stories of those I have met in my ministry and travel over the years. I can picture so many faces, smiles, laughs, tears, grieving, yelling and even moments where the Divine broke through our conversation and made me aware of something beyond what I know. Life is made up of experiences and stories. There are characters, plots that are at times resolved, emotion and a lot of truth about who we are as human beings. It’s a connecting point with the Bible for me, our stories and Scripture’s stories. The Biblical narrative has a wide array of human story and interaction with God. From Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his sons, the judges and kings, prophets, rabbis, Jesus, disciples and those of the early church, each person carries a story within. Sometimes though, we just have to let it out and tell our stories.
I have been volunteering at an amazing place in Indianapolis called the Fletcher Place Community Center that serves those in need. As I began to discern how I could best use my time at Fletcher Place, I sensed a call to simply be present. There is a place for the ministry of presence in life. I decided to begin attending the community breakfasts as a chaplain like guest, where I would attend, have coffee and breakfast, talk with guests and offer prayer if desired.
I have heard many stories over the last several weeks. Some stories have been filled with a lot of challenges in the current realities of the guests. Lack of employment, few hours, low income, draining energy and a loss of hope fill the eyes and stories of many. Still for others, there’s a real testimony in what they share. Some have been in a real life “hell.” I have heard stories of anguish, heartbreak, failure, violence and even stories that include comments like “the bullets were flying past me.” Even in the midst of real challenges, often there’s still an sense of hope as I’m grateful to hear a laugh or see a smile as we talk.
The most powerful experiences are when guests tell me again and again that they are “thankful.” I have heard this so many times from many of the guests. They are thankful that God has brought them through so far. They are thankful for places like Fletcher Place that offer some hope and kindness in times of grief or hopelessness. They are often thankful for the little things. After hearing many guests say they are thankful, I find myself being more thankful for the little things too. I’m thankful that God helped me find Fletcher Place through my congregation.
I have been thanked many times by the guests for simply listening. I always thank them for sharing their stories with me and so often their response is “thank you for sitting down next to me and listening to me.” It is so powerful. It is sacred and holy to listen to each other. After stories have been shared and tears have sometimes been shed, I can sense some sort of relief from the guests as they recognize that someone has listened and offered prayer.
It might not be much, and it really isn’t, but it is the ministry of presence. It’s been a blessing for me to have breakfast at the Fletcher Place Community Center, but not just for the food, which is really great by the way. My time at the community breakfast has been a blessing because of the stories I have heard and shared and the care and kindness offered. That is a true blessing offered around the table of grace.