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I’ve written about the weekly Soup Kitchen Church that I lead multiple times on The Twelve. It’s both the most demanding and the greatest joy of my week. (You can read a bit more about it in the recent post in The Christian Century.)
We’ve essentially planted a church within a church, centered around a meal and a safe space for some of the most vulnerable populations in New York City. Jesus shows up, not always with the appearance or odor that we are used to. But it is Jesus all the same. By the grace of God we gather together each week. This is bigger than my ego, bigger than my church, bigger than us. There is belonging, there is love.
Every week I tell our volunteers a version of the Benedictine credo: “We welcome Christ today. We welcome the Christ who is thankful and we welcome the Christ who could care less about thanking you for your service. We welcome Christ who smells of urine and the streets of New York City. We welcome Christ whose faith wakes them up each day and gives them the strength to keep going. We welcome Christ who comes to our doors looking for food, perhaps community, perhaps prayer, and we remain open.”
Teresa of Avila was right: “Christ has no body but yours.” But instead of quickly feeling self righteous about our good deeds, I believe Christ is the one eating the meal, not me serving the meal. Christ is the one who sits at the table, tired from being used and abused. Christ is the woman who just told the pervert on the subway to stop touching her. Christ is in the hands and feet of those just trying to make it each and every day.
I’m writing this on Tuesday night after our Soup Kitchen Church. I am equally amped up and utterly exhausted. We served 295 people a Thanksgiving meal today. 210 pounds of turkey and 75 pounds of mashed potatoes later, I sit at home with my whiskey reflecting on one of the biggest days of the year for this ministry. One of the church members who is fiercely protective of our soup kitchen came up to me and said, “Pastor Jes, word is out. Not only do you all serve the best food, but people know they are loved here. Just as they are.”
Love has a way of bringing people together, drawing them in and inviting them to the table.
Where do you go where you know that you are loved exactly as you are?
Today I might answer that question in the same way my soup kitchen community would answer it: I know I am loved exactly as I am at our Soup Kitchen Church. And I am grateful to know that hundreds of other people feel the exact same way.