Strength beyond our strength.


(Photo taken in Philadelphia in October at a retreat for those engaged in street ministry)


The following sermon was offered at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, Fl, on the Day of Pentecost, Sunday, May 31, 2020, by The Rev. Canon Beth Tjoflat.

Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23


May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We live in challenging times. Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit,
A gift that is intended to equip us for times and circumstances such as these.

Just over a week ago I was
chatting over the fence with some of
the people lining our block, waiting their turn
to receive groceries from the pantry.

When someone asked, “What’s new, pastor?”
I mentioned that the Feast of Pentecost was coming up.
Someone else responded “Penta-what? What’s that?”
Before I could respond, a man a few squares ahead of him,
one of our Church Without Walls regulars,
announced with conviction, “the Comforter!”

He was right.
Only the Holy Spirit is more than that.
It empowers us, gives us courage,
strength and wisdom.
This spirit within us gives us the very
power and authority of Jesus.
This is good news.

Still, this can also be perplexing and quite
daunting to ponder.
Even so, it is Good News!

This past week the pain and brokenness
in our communities spilled over with
the senseless killing on Monday of George Floyd –
and African American man who died when
an arresting officer knelt on his neck.

Floyd said he couldn’t breathe but none of
the officers looked out for him.
Somehow their duty to serve and protect
in their minds didn’t apply to this man.
Floyd lay on the pavement, handcuffed,
cruelly pinned, until he was dead.

Some weeks before that, another senseless killing
of a black man Ahmaud Arbery – just up
the highway from here, near Brunswick –
left us stunned.

We were grieved and confused to hear about
Breonna Taylor who was shot 8 times by
officers who entered her home with a no-knock
search warrant.
The man they were looking for had already
been apprehended.

These tragic events seem to keep coming,
tearing at our collective souls – yet especially
they create a sense of fear and righteous anger
in people of color – people who suffer from
a breadth and depth of inequality
that seems to increase not decrease.

They suffer from the sin of racism that infects us all,
whether or not we are conscious of it,
whether or not we are willing to name it.

My friend Dee – a white woman and resident
of our Springfield neighborhood –
was interviewed at the protest yesterday
here in downtown Jacksonville.

She said she decided to participate after asking
some black friends what she could do to make
a small difference.

Dee’s advice to us: Be in the conversation.
Be willing to explore racism in our community.
Don’t let fear of saying the wrong thing
stop you from engaging in the dialogue.

These are wise words that deserve
our consideration and response as members
of the body of Christ.
They are a call to action.

We may feel powerless or unsure of what
we could possibly do.
The Holy Spirit is a gift given
for times such as these.
The power and authority of Jesus rests
upon each one of us.

These incidents — and the protests and unrest
manifesting in their wake — come to us as
we are reeling from a pandemic that
continues to unfold around us.

As followers of Jesus we are called to
make wise choices, to consider the vulnerable
and most at risk.
“Will I wear a mask?
Must I continue to practice social distancing?”
Until there is a vaccine widely available to all,
the answer for followers of Jesus  is a resounding “Yes!”

Yes, these are challenging times.
Most people I speak with report that they
are have been riding an emotional rollercoaster
since the onset of the pandemic.
I know I have.

These waves of emotion are unpredictable
– they just come.
Along with this, many of us are experiencing a sense
of exhaustion –and  wonder how this can be.

For some – especially those of us who still have jobs,
who have a roof over heads and food to eat –
there is a sense that we should just be grateful,
that we shouldn’t feel pain or fear.
And yet these are very human responses,
Responses for which we can make room.

As horrible as Covid-19 is, we know it is
not the only global pandemic we face.
A spirit of divisiveness continues to infect
our world and our country.

This is not unique to this moment in time
but it has been amplified of late.
It is amplified by so-called leaders,
by TV personalities on the left and the right
and by people who at the heart of it are
shot through with fear.

An internal fear that is not explored over time
will be covered over, only to be turned outward
as hate.

We must pray and work toward instilling
the spirit of unity that has made
our country great in past times of crisis.

The Pentecost was made for times such as these.
Jesus breathes his spirit upon us so that
we can do the very hard work of loving our
neighbors as ourselves.

We can do the hard work of standing with
those who are oppressed and marginalized.
The challenging work of calling out racism
and prejudice when it visits our communities,
our homes and our hearts.

In recent weeks, during Morning Prayer
worship on Zoom, we have been praying a
moving litany for the pandemic.
In a prayer for frontline workers, we ask God to
give them strength beyond their strength,
to give them courage beyond their courage.

These same words we can pray for one another,
for our families, friends and the wider community.

We live in challenging times.
But we belong to the One who
always has our back.
He asks us to stand with those most vulnerable.
To have the backs of all our brothers and sisters.

As we confront our sin and the sin within
our community, within long-standing institutions,
we will no longer be stuck.
We will be set free.

In these turbulent and uncertain times,
Jesus gives us his peace.
He gives us the power and grace to love Him
with all our strength and might.
He gives us the power and grace to love
all our neighbors – to love them as ourselves.



If you would like to make a gift to support our outreach, you may do so online at: St. Mary’s.

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The gate.

StMarysGateIn this week’s Gospel reading (John 10:1-10), we encounter Jesus, the good shepherd. And yet in this passage he does not refer to himself explicitly as the good shepherd. Instead he tells his followers, I am the gate.  I am the gate for the sheep.

In my last post, I made peace with the wall that separates St. Mary’s from the rest of the world. This week I find myself thinking about our gate. As we continue operating our food pantry, we do so without opening our campus as we did in more carefree days. Instead, people distance themselves safely from one another as they wait along our sidewalk in a quick-moving line that brings them ultimately to the wrought iron gate that stands in front of our sanctuary steps.

I pray for all who are facing food insecurity, but especially this day for those who never in a million years thought they’d find themselves in a food line. It is a foreign experience for them, jarring, humbling, maybe even embarrassing.  This kind of suffering may be new to them.  It is also equalizing.  We all are just “slobs on the bus, trying to find our way home.” Being forced to let go of the self-image we may have cherished, having the scaffolding of a life carefully constructed, suddenly damaged or ripped away — this is not something for which most of us would ever hope.  But still, when it happens, when we find ourselves in an untenable position, we can find hope there. We can find something so sure and true, something that maybe we never knew we had, something we secretly feared would not be there to carry us.

In his beautiful Sabbath poem, Wendell Berry asks,
Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come in among these trees you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.

At times I have used this poem as part of a graveside liturgy but find that it works for any kind of loss. It speaks so beautifully of the blessing of letting go, of the deep discovery that is possible only when we surrender everything we know and everything we are. Even then, we can’t know what the next step might look like. But if we can manage to let go – if we can at least loosen our grip — the gatekeeper will open the gate. And we will hear his voice. We will find our way.

If you are able to, please support food ministries in your community. If you would like to support St. Mary’s, you may do so here: Giving to St. Mary’s.


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Wailing wall.

PrayerWallA decade ago I was blessed to visit the Holy Land.  One of the most moving experiences for me was visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, an exposed section of a retaining wall built by Herod. 

Jews and other pilgrims visit this place, often spending considerable time pondering the many trials and ordeals faced by the Jewish people throughout their history. Remembering and attesting to the faithfulness of God, people often tuck prayers into the wall. 

As I waited and prayed, eventually a space opened. I moved forward, pressing my forehead and palm against the cool stone, my breath taken away by the holiness, by the vast history of this place. After a few moments, I tucked my paper into a tiny crevice, then backed away, bowing the knee of my heart, uncertain of my right to be there, to make such a request.

This week at our food pantry, more people than ever before came to us, seeking food for their bodies, but also longing for something more. Longing to hear a “yes.” To hear the words “I see you.” To hear that they belong, that in God’s perfect economy they still matter.

Several who came asked for prayer.  As they shared their stories, each came with tears. Each brought frustration and anxiety. “When will this virus end? When will I be able to rest?” One I’ve known for years through our “church without walls” street church. She raised her hands toward heaven even as she wept, letting the prayer wash over her.  Another woman was standing a few feet away, certain that God would touch her too, as she waited patiently nearby.

Later, shortly after the close of pantry, an elderly woman hobbled up to the fence, hoping to receive something. We paused our staff worship time, as a parcel of food was gathered quickly. When I stepped out of the sanctuary and into the light, wearing my white stole, our visitor called to me: “Mother! Mother, please.” When I approached, she knelt at the base of the fence, taking in my words and blessing like a desperately needed drink. When she looked up, she had the face of an angel. A small, pink azalea and the petals of a yellow-and-white iris were tucked under her cap, framing her face.

Shortly after she left, we reconvened to conclude our staff devotional.  A colleague observed rather astutely: “That was the best part of the day.”

A few weeks ago, when the coronavirus forced us to lock our gate, I was troubled by the brick and wrought iron fence that now separates us from those who come. It seemed so cold, and unwelcoming. More than once, I felt the urge to grab a sledgehammer and knock it down.

But now, when I look out of the corner of my eye down the expanse of fence, I see something altogether different.  I see prayers tucked carefully into place. Prayers covering basic unmet needs along with treasured hopes and dreams, ancient regrets nestled alongside deepest longings — all of it, suspended between the iron slats, resting there, waiting. All of it tended by Love, tended by the One who will never abandon us.

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“We’re starving.”

GoodFridayThese words yesterday, coming from one of our “church without walls” congregants, chilled me to the bone. At great inconvenience and physical hardship for herself, she made her way from a camp site to our food pantry, located about one mile north of the heart of downtown.  Her tattoo-mottled body was sweaty and shaking from the effort as she parked her bicycle, precariously laden with as much nonperishable food and bakery items as she could hope to carry.

She wept as she told me, “I’m scared.  We’re all scared.” I told her how much I missed our community, now scattered. How heart-broken I feel to not be able to gather.  She said that she is afraid that she will lose her beloved partner, who has medical issues, who remains encamped as she is too weak to travel to our food pantry.

When she asked for prayer, I invited her to follow me several feet down the fence for privacy.  My heart ached that we weren’t able to embrace, that I wasn’t able to place a hand on her shoulder as we prayed.  We connected as best we could with a brick-and-iron fence between us.

The deepening sense of powerlessness and grief can be overwhelming as the divide widens, sending the poor farther and farther to the edge of society, to the edge of existence.

As a priest, I feel like a traitor even as I struggle to reimagine this particular ministry.  Some days, prayer is the best I can offer, though that prayer can feel hollow when what we crave is something incarnational, something “real.” A warm cup of coffee. A comforting meal shared among our gathered community.  A time to reflect, to give voice to our experiences, to have the cry of our hearts heard by our sisters and brothers.

For sound reason, we cannot gather at this time, and the tools we use to reach those more fortunate – computers and internet – fall woefully short in connecting with those less fortunate, especially when it comes to those who are unhoused. I post prayers and messages, knowing only a handful will be able to access them.  It is not a matter of not being tech savvy.  The libraries – a vital lifeline of daily life — are closed, cut off by a pandemic.

When this dear one cried to me, “We’re starving,” I flashed on Jesus on the cross, uttering the words “I thirst,” before declaring that “It is finished.”  My friend’s suffering – the suffering of this beloved community – is known intimately by Jesus. I know that he hangs with them in this trying time just as he remains with us all.  His presence may seem hidden or at times cruelly obscured, but he is with us.  I cannot solve my friend’s suffering. I am powerless to fix these urgent days we find ourselves in, powerless to prevent the many life adjustments that are sure to come.  I simply pray to find a way to be present with these precious ones, to be present with those in our midst. To find Christ not in some longed-for-yet-out-of-our-grasp future, but in the here and now. For it is in this present time that we must find the One who suffered and died for us. The One who promised never to leave.

The number of our neighbors facing food insecurity is growing rapidly in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. You can read more about that here: or here:

You can make a gift to St. Mary’s food pantry here: St. Mary’s.

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Believe in the light.


(Photo taken by my good friend Bill Shay in Fernandina Beach, FL)

In today’s Gospel reading (John 12:20-36), Jesus told his disciples: “Believe in the light so that you may become children of light.” Jesus spoke these words at a time when his own soul was troubled. He understood what was to come – the suffering that was about to unfold, paving the way for the salvation of the world.

As we find a way to live in the midst of a global pandemic, we journey into a Holy Week unlike any other we have experienced in our lifetimes.  Jesus’ words and experience become more relevant, more palpable than ever before.  Wherever we may find ourselves — disrupted lives and obliterated routines — our expectations have been altered.  We must walk in new ways – sometimes with strength, sometimes with resistance and anger — and at moments stumbling gloriously as we strive to do the next right thing while accommodating grief and anxiety.

We must give ourselves and those around us a measure of grace.  We have no point of reference for what we are experiencing.  Beyond listening to sound medical advice and careful social practices that honor the welfare of the entire community, we are reinventing how to live our lives, one day at a time.

We must choose to walk in the light. We must choose to walk with the One who created us all and to trust in the light that casts out darkness.  He is with each one of us: the strong, the healthy, the resilient in our midst — and with those who are suffering, those who risk their lives to care for the sick, to put food on the table. And he is at the bedside of those who are dying.

We must choose to be children of light. For the light which came into the world – the one true Light – can never be extinguished and will never forsake us.

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Compassion crucifies fear.


God makes that possible.

We begin our Palm Sunday, singing Hosanna, as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, bringing hope as a compassionate king, a merciful gracious leader who cares for all people, even and especially those who find themselves on the fringes of society: the poor, the disabled, the sick, the prisoner, the homeless, the vulnerable, the alien.

Quickly, though, our readings from Matthew usher us swiftly from a triumphant entry promising a new King to Jesus — suddenly vilified, unjustly criminalized — as he is swept toward his death, even as he is declared guilty of nothing. A colleague astutely observed these were a people hungry for new leadership, actively committed to the welfare of all people. They longed for Jesus – healer, truth-teller, gatherer of all — from those in positions of authority to those on the very edges of life, those who might be deemed “non-essential,” or even disposable. They longed for Jesus just as we do.

Finding ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic is jarring, terrifying, even as we wake each day to face much that is unknown, much that is uncertain.  We must find ways to not give ourselves over to the fear even as we honestly acknowledge it.

I have the privilege of working in a food ministry. Each day, when those who come (many seeking food assistance for the first time) respectfully line up according to colorful sidewalk tape that makes social distancing a little clearer, I am struck by the relief and gratitude of so many.  This is important work. It is Gospel work. But, even more, it is work that casts out that creeping sense of fear.  Our 12-steppers know that being of service is the secret to a happy life. It abates that very understandable fear: “What will become of me and my family as the days, weeks and months go by?”

Just for today, each of us can choose to practice compassion. One of the greatest acts of compassion is to stay home. And, if we must go out for essentials or because we work providing an essential service, let’s practice social distancing. Let’s make masks and wear them.  Let’s practice compassion by doing the next right thing for the good of our communities, for the good of all people.

Acts of compassion – no matter how slight – cast out fear.  Because they are rooted in God. Because they are rooted in love.

If you would like to make a gift to help our food pantry serve rapidly growing numbers of hungry people, you may do so here: St. Mary’s food pantry

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Come from the four winds, O breath.

seascapeThis morning the prophet Ezekiel reminds us that God is with us, that we can call on the One who created everything that is, even when it may seem, at moments at least, that we are left alone to face our peril.

The pressing needs of the world – of our physical reality – cause us to look for solutions all around us. We want to be able to forage and obtain what we need, whether in the form of household supplies found in the back corner of a cabinet or a perfectly timed visit to the grocery or by scouring to find a church food pantry that, by grace, has managed to remain stocked and open, at least for today.

When Jesus finally comes to Bethany – after the death and burial of Lazarus – his action is too late in eyes of Martha.  But it is for times such as these that he is able to enter into our lives most profoundly. He may not restore our circumstances, routines or bank accounts just as we’d like them to be, but he will guide us through this challenging time of uncertainly in a way that, as our 12-step friends say, is indeed miraculous.

Already we see kindness and welcome in a way that is inspiring. When nurses and doctors report for duty with limited protective gear, when patients seek out Covid-19 testing or care for other critical needs, no one is concerned about politics or religion or bank accounts.  The focus is on doing the best next right thing.

In today’s Gospel reading (John 11:1-45), after Lazarus’s death, some of the people said “‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man kept this man from dying?’”

The expectation that people of faith must or will be rendered invulnerable flies in the face of the stories of Holy Scripture.  Our naked vulnerability is the birth place of the divine gift of compassion.  Perhaps Christ is creating a space for a reign of true compassion in a country and world that often have been dominated by instincts in collision, by the visceral desire for more power, money or special privilege. “I’ll share mightily with my neighbor once I make sure I get mine, once I make sure I have enough.”  Those of us who have found ourselves caught up in this game at one time or another know that, left to our own devices, there is never enough.

God’s compassion is intended for all. In God’s perfect economy, no one gets left behind or brushed aside as expendable.

There is nothing wrong with reaching out and tending our own needs and sense of loss and pain. In fact, it is imperative. We must “place the oxygen masks on ourselves first.”  But as that sense of breath and flow is restored (just for today), let us set our sights on our neighbors (wisely defined as “everyone in the whole wide world,” by my 9-year old son), on the most good for the most people. Let us set our sights on love – the very heart of compassion. For it is the one thing that increases in our lives when we share it.

Our world as we know it is being changed. It may seem that “‘Our bones have dried up, and our hope is lost.’” But God will bring us back, not to our vision of the world, but to his. Already God is sharing his breath through the four winds, so that the best of humanity may rise up and walk together.

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Slow down, you move too fast.

This morning I went to gas up the car then stop by the grocery. “They may not have what we want but I’m sure we can find something useful,” I told my son.

What I noticed as we ambled up and down the aisles was that folks for the most part had settled down. They were calm and courteous. Shelves were empty, there were no paper products or cleaning wipes, no frozen veggies or ground beef. Plenty of milk, though, and eggs and cheese. Gone was the frantic energy of a few days ago. I thanked the cashier for being there and she appreciated the acknowledgement.

When we got home, I offered to take a walk with my son. He joined me for a bit, running sprints ahead of me, then made his way back to our yard, sitting across the driveway from his pal Andrew, as they connected across at least 6 feet of space. Somehow they had managed to make peace at last with “no playdates until Coronavirus is over,” instead finding a way to be together. “Social distancing” may have put physical distance between them, but it did not put the kabosh on much needed together time.

As I continued to walk up and down the street, taking in the sunshine, the lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge song came to me. My mood recalibrated. I felt a sense of peace and promise that we can do this thing. God will bring good out of this pandemic. Good in countless acts of kindness, selflessness and consideration for others. In practicing kindness to ourselves. This is not a time to be productive in the way the world measures productivity. It is a time to be in the moment, to take in the beauty of the world.

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling groovy

Hello lamppost, what’cha knowing
I’ve come to watch your flowers growin’
Ain’t you got no rhymes for me?
Doo-ait-n-doo-doo, feeling groovy
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling groovy

I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morningtime drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you, all is groovy

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I know you.

Not too long ago, I was walking down a street in the historic section of St. Augustine.  I had been to a church there to witness a friend make his vows as a Companion of St. Francis.

Suddenly an urgent hello entered my space so clearly that I knew it was for me: “I know you!” The voice came from behind me, to my left.

I looked over to see a man, tanned with long gray hair pulled back, frayed cutoffs and a tank top. He was sitting on the edge of a planter, eating from a takeout container.  His eyes shown with light.

I stepped over and took his hand. “And I know you. You’re Tree.”  It meant something that I recalled his name.

Actually, he is one special person whom I would find hard to forget. A Native American friend from the street, who drops into Church Without Walls only rarely on Sunday, but who makes a habit of joining us at our Wednesday coffee fellowship when he is in downtown Jacksonville for medical appointments.

This beautiful man made my day. His presence and kind spirit have done more for me than I could ever do for him.

We live in wild, disconcerting times.  It’s easy to get discouraged and lose hope.

It is in these seemingly chance encounters that we can find hope and new energy to keep on keeping on.

These m
oments of grace fill us with the joy of being known by another. And we have the opportunity, if we will pause to take it, to know those in our midst.

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A new Jerusalem.


The following sermon was offered at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 19, 2019.


Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35
Psalm 148


This morning I want to read a passage to you

from the book City of God, written by Sara Miles.

Sara is a lay woman who had a conversion

experience when she received communion

at an Episcopal church.


As she returned to her seat,

the Spirit spoke to her very clearly:

“Feed my people.”


Sara has founded a dozen or more

food ministries in Northern California.


She writes: “While God is remarkably

flexible about showing up anywhere –

in the desert, in a manger, in a burning bush,

or in a prison cell – the eyes of my own faith

see the most on urban streets.

For me, paradise is a garden,

but heaven is a city.

Though prophets tend to describe the

heavenly city with fantasy-Barbie imagery

that leans heavily on golden robes,

sparkling fountains, and precious stones,

the actual urban place I’ve lived in for

more than twenty years –

the Mission District of San Francisco –

has changed my view of heaven.


I begin to see how the new Jerusalem

might look less like a pious Disneyland

and more like – well, like the “New Jerusalem” bodega

run by Syrian Christians that I trudge past

on my way to work, its dingy pink front

plastered over with Miller beer signs,

its enthusiastic, unshaven owner waving

and smiling each new day as he opens the door

to welcome in a straggling, polyglot parade of

school kids, nurses, winos and day laborers.

I begin to see that city-ness,

not necessarily prettiness,

might be a characteristic sign of heaven.

The city of God is a place so mixed,

so layered, and apparently impure

that it proclaims a love vaster than

humans can come up with on their own.


A place as surprising and generous as the sheet

of formerly unclean food in the Book of Acts

that turns Peter from heaven’s gatekeeper

into its dazzled servant.

This is not unlike our ministry here in the

midst of community, in a neighborhood

that is becoming increasingly diverse.

It speaks to the divine wisdom of welcoming

everyone, regardless of social status,

race, intellectual ability or creed.


In God’s economy there is room for

all of creation, there is room for all of

his created beings.

`What God has made clean,

you must not call profane.’

What God has created,

you must not call godless.


With God’s grace we make room in

our hearts and our lives for whatever

and whomever he sends our way.


When the busy-ness of our “messy Jesus business”

begins to take over, we must be prepared to remind

one another and call one another to that place

of “wild inefficiency,” making room for the Spirit

to do her work of healing and grace.


We preach the gospel through love.


Last week we explored the “wildly inefficient”

model of compassion at work in L’arche

communities around the world,

communal living partnerships that

bring together the intellectually disabled with

those longing to find connection and community.


We find our true and best selves in the other.

We encounter the living Christ in the

face of our neighbors.


Here at St. Mary’s it is easy to

get caught up in the urgency of

all the work that needs to be done.


Grounds and gardens need

tending and care.

Repairs must be done.

Bills must be paid.

Food must be picked up from

grocery partners.

Pantry shelves must be stocked

and restocked.


Volunteers are trained and

bring leadership to a perpetual cycle

of food-in and food-out.

Those coming for groceries must be greeted,

signed in and directed.


This week one of our volunteers

leaned into that model of

“wildly inefficient compassion.”

She was the only volunteer available for

handling reception and check-in

for pantry friends coming for food.


It was the kind of morning where I’d be

tempted to move them through quickly,

signed up, signed in, pertinent data recorded.

The word “Next!” could easily replace a

genuine welcome, an “inefficient” but much

needed inquiry.


In the midst of busy-ness, this volunteer

sensed a need for pastoral care.

She made space for tending a hurting child of God.


Our volunteer learned that this

first-time pantry visitor was experiencing

tremendous grief from the recent loss not only

of her husband but also of a grandchild,

who died at birth.

These losses came within weeks of each other.


As the matriarch of her family, our new friend

felt great pressure to exhibit strength,

to be the “rock” for her family in the midst

of loss and tragedy.


If that weren’t enough, she became the victim of

a landlord scam when she sought to downsize

her home, adjusting to life without her husband.


Our front desk volunteer came to me.

“I think I have one who would benefit

from a few moments of your time.”


It was a humbling privilege to listen

to her pour her heart out as she shared

her journey if the past several weeks.

“I could use a hug,” she said as

we prepared to pray.


Her tears wet my sleeve and reminded me

for some time after her departure of

what a holy gift she brought.

I thanked her for coming, for reminding

me of what is most important.

For being willing to share her pain

with someone she had only just met.


Right now our new friend she is staying

at a local shelter where I used to spend

several hours each week,

being available to listen to clients or staff.

The busy-ness and legitimate demands of

our growing ministry have gotten in the way

of that space.


Still, I sense the Spirit at work and know

that a long-held dream of trained spiritual

companions will be realized.

Our vision of St. Mary’s includes

providing training and support to those

called to engage in such ministry,

not just on our campus but in our streets and

in our shelters.


I feel energized — and hope that you do too –

to do the work of creating the infrastructure and

space to allow this to come into being.

This summer we will welcome 2 seminarians

who will gain hands-on experience in this

ministry of compassionate presence.


In addition, we are in conversation with the diocese

to offer 4-day residential training experiences

for deacons-in-training and lay persons who

may sense a call to this form of ministry.


There is no substitute for sticking

your toe in the water, to bring clarity

to a sense of calling.

Frankly I don’t know how else to do it.


As our friend Barbara Brown Taylor writes

in her book Finding an Altar in the World:


“My life depends on becoming

more fully human, trusting that there is

no way to God apart from real life

 in the real world.”


Whether your work is here in the

food ministry or in other places

along the highways and by-ways,

know that God dwells with you.

You are his hands and feet,

creating a new Jerusalem —

a city of God marked by

acts of love.




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