[Following is the transcript of a homily delivered by congregation member Pat Howkinson on September 6, 2015. No audio is available.]
Good Morning. I want to start with a confession. I really love to eat! Actually sometimes I live to eat, but the first is always true. I come by my love of eating naturally because my mother was a dietician who made us beautifully delicious meals and was also the honorary Minister of Meals in our Presbyterian church. I am also from the Midwest where “food is love.” (So, it is no wonder that I love the United Parish so much – food is a given for almost all of our gatherings. Check out the spread for coffee hour today.)
And it also follows that I would be called to a food program as my form of Christian service. In the late 1980s, the United Parish’s Committee on Social Responsibility (a former incarnation of the Stretching Ministry) was looking for a new service project. Louise Bowler had heard of a meals program in Boston called Saturday’s/Sunday’s Bread, and we jumped right in.
Saturday’s/Sundays Bread is an all-volunteer meals program started in 1983 to fulfill a need for weekend meals for Boston’s hungry population. In the years since its founding, more than 400,000 meals have been served. Volunteers come from churches, temples, colleges and universities, fraternal organizations, alumni groups, volunteer groups like Boston Cares and young adults and singles looking for volunteer opportunities on the Internet. These workers contribute their time, expertise and financial support to the program. Money for SSB also comes from Project Bread, corporate grants, and special generous donations such as the one given by UP to last year’s capital campaign. In addition to serving meals, SSB has also sponsored flu shots and distributed toiletries, socks, blankets, scarves, hats and Christmas goodie bags to guests.
SSB is truly on the front lines of serving hungry people, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to carry out this service. It has broadened my perspective by showing me a variety of lifestyles that I never encountered growing up. I have met individuals who have an uphill battle to meet their basic needs and others who choose homelessness as a lifestyle to avoid being tied down to anything. I have been yelled at, pushed aside and had lemonade thrown at me, but more often I have been thanked, complimented and engaged in friendly conversation. I have learned that we serve more people at the end of the month just before the welfare checks come in, and, in the winter, we often serve fewer because they have to choose between food and shelter. I worry when I don’t see some of our “regulars.” Hearing some of their stories challenges my belief that “all things work together for good,” but it also makes me want to work harder to make it possible for all people. I feel a moral responsibility to do what I can to correct the economic injustices that affect too many people today. Working in this program has become one way for me to counter the helplessness that I too often feel when reading the headlines. And although my feet may hurt at the end of the meal, I feel blessed by all the people with whom I have interacted.
Over the years I have met many interesting individuals at SSB. The guests are mostly men, with very few women and only occasionally children. Rich is always alone and a bit nervous, but he gives me a very cheery hello every time and asks if there is cheese in the meal (he is allergic). Wayne wears several layers of clothing in all temperatures and either comes as a guest or volunteers with the Old South delegation and always helps with cleanup. John is tall and sits with several friends and gives me his copy of the Catholic newspaper The Pilot with recommendations on articles to read or tells me of local concerts happening that day. Louis is a bit loud but very jolly and likes to chat with the young women who volunteer, and sometimes even proposes to one of them. Bill is usually very amiable, but when he became disruptive one day and left abruptly, his friends hastened to defend him (as maybe being off his meds?). Herbert is quiet and keeps to himself but eats all the salads we can give him. Ellen is a brash loner who always comes in with her order for steak, popovers, foie gras or something equally special – hope springs eternal! The guests who like to talk will discuss sports or politics, share their health problems and other frustrations, or just shoot the breeze with us and each other.
Then there are the volunteers! Mike has a history of helping to found 2 meals programs in NYC and is now a valuable member of the SSB board as well as the planning committee for the new kitchen we will use when we move to UUM in the South End. Harold is a trained chef and can always turn out something wonderful from the most ordinary ingredients. Ryan, Ian and Bruce started as volunteers and have become kitchen executives, able to run the entire meal on a Sat. or Sun. Our own Lucille Douglass (89 years young) not only chops salads and serves meals while standing for 4 hours straight, but also takes all the leftover food to her friend Teresa who has her own meals program later in the week. Over the years, more than 75 Good Samaritans from the UP have served at SSB, with Bev Bowman, Jack Keefe and Julia Rehberg representing us this past Sunday at our last time serving at SJE. We even got ice cream for our services. After Sept. 13, SSB will be on hiatus for a few months until the state-of-the-art kitchen is built in the new basement community center of UUM church. Reopening is targeted for early 2016 (fingers crossed!). One special benefit to UP from this move will be getting a donation of the dishwasher from SJE to replace the 1930s relic in our kitchen. Another will be unlimited volunteers for our Thanksgiving dinner.
I love this program because it has enabled me to engage my faith and bear witness to God’s love while working with and for many wonderful people. We welcome the guests and treat them like family with restaurant-style meals and friendly conversation. God’s grace calls us to service, and the very deed feels like a prayer. In the words of Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to serve in the US Congress, “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.” The freedom that we get from God grows and enlarges our lives as we become an active part of God’s family and serve one another in love.