I was at a dinner recently as part a monthly commitment to the local indigent Womens Recovery program. I showed up early to heat a casserole that I brought. It was a bit iffy as to what kind of contributions we could expect. I spoke with the coordinator, Bob, the day before and he told me that there was only one name on the sign up sheet. He said that he might have to break down and pick up some Take-n-Bake pizzas or make some chili. I told him that although I hadn’t planned on being there, I would make an exception so he didn’t have to go it alone.
Bob showed up shortly after and I helped him set up. Surprisingly, he said the contributions suddenly came through and it looked like there would be enough to feed the 22 or so residents. I said that was impressive, although I hadn’t planned on providing drinks, so we’d probably have rely on ice water. I also couldn’t help remarking on the irony that two men were responsible for conducting a dinner at a Women’s treatment facility. He chuckled and said that was probably part the “divine plan” to teach guys humility, or something. I smiled.
As we bit nearer to the serving time, I got another surprise. We were joined by another lady and her teenage daughter who showed up to serve. It was somebody that I hadn’t seen in months. And she brought the drinks too. I offered thanks and pleasantries at seeing her after such a long time, then retreated to the kitchen to fill up a pan with some ice for drinks. Upon returning, I was stunned to see that that we were now joined by the pastor of our church and his wife. I expressed appreciation in that as long as we had been conducting these twice monthly dinners – for about the past six years or so – we had never been joined by clergy. Not that it was a big deal, but I always did think it might be nice to share in the outreach. This pastor was new to our church and not wanting to slight his predecessor, I said nothing.
After introductions and explaining the menu, the pastor offered to bless the meal. The residents went through the line, and were followed by the servers who were encouraged to fix a plate and sit with a couple of residents. Everybody had different table companions. Laughter, banter, and lots of camaraderie could be heard from various parts of the dining hall. Dinner lasted about 45 minutes before cleanup and preparation for a scheduled meeting began.
Crossing paths with the pastor, I asked how he enjoyed his meal. He was grinning from a crack that one of the residents at his table made when he inadvertently knocked over his glass of water…something about “being prepared to walk on water.” I smiled and asked if he got to know any of the residents.
He said, “It’s incredible how relaxed and comfortable these ladies are, how casual and effortless the conversation was, and how open and disclosing they could be in 30 to 40 minutes over breaking bread. I think that’s something that’s missing from our personal encounters these days. I cannot imagine why anyone would not want to be a part of this ministry.”
“Well,” I replied, “That’s what I get out of it too. I have been for about the past six years. I’ve seen a lot of residents complete the program here and reengage with the community. Recovery, of course, is a long term process, and connecting with others in the community is absolutely essential. I’ve never seen anyone successful in trying to go it alone. It’s great that we could share the experience with you.”
The pastor smiled knowingly and offered, “Well, I’ll be back. This kind of breaking bread is good for me as it is for the residents. It’s good for the soul.”
I walked away thinking how surprising coincidences like the additional food showing up and unexpected guests attending can lead to a decided fullness of most ministry activity.