The nice part about a job with a fairly consistent schedule is that on any given day I can provide a pretty good guess about what I’ll be doing. Every Sunday a few things happen: I forget to eat dinner because of poor time management, groups arrive, I struggle in the name game we play, and the night concludes with orientation. During orientation every week we ask the kids to put on flexibility pants and humility vests, two (imaginary) articles of clothing that provide them with superpowers. Flexibility pants give you the power to be flexible at work sites, which means being prepared if plans change. Humility vests give you the power of being humble enough to do any job that’s asked of you.
These often go hand in hand at our various worksites. For example, at Manna FoodBank a group may be sorting bulk products like potatoes or pasta when Josh comes and asks for two volunteers to come throw out old moldy squash. Thanks to both of these superpowers any member of the group can do this with only an acceptable amount of complaining. Our flexibility pants and humility vests also don’t come off, which means, by my count, I have on at least nine of each of these articles of clothing on right now. All of these pants and vests come in handy, because as an intern our weeks/days/hours often call for us to be flexible and humble. Sometimes you get to a worksite and it takes longer than expected to check in on the computer, sometimes you get to a worksite and finish everything the agency asked you to do all day in the first hour, and sometimes you make a wrong turn even though you’ve already practiced driving that route and know where to go.
No job site requires more flexibility or humility than a Wednesday afternoon at Haywood Street Congregation. Haywood Street is a congregation of mostly homeless members who come together for a worship service every Wednesday and Sunday. There’s also a free meal served before the worship (you don’t have to stay for worship to eat the meal) so on an average summer Wednesday they see between 300-500 people. In the middle of all this craziness our groups set up tents, giant Jenga, and corn hole. We then walk up and down the street, handing out popsicles as a way to break the ice and start a conversation with our neighbors. This five cent Popsicle can lead to an invitation to play games or simply provide our neighbors with a way to cool off. Handing out popsicles often requires a lot of humility. These are people who we are taught growing up to avoid. These are people who we avoid eye contact with when we’re driving or walking downtown. These are people we are taught that are very different from us. We use the Popsicle to humble ourselves and share the love that God calls us to share. When we do this right, and truly humble ourselves, some amazing things can happen. Some groups bring guitars and our neighbors teach them how to play new songs. Some groups make friends with the children of Haywood Street, children they wouldn’t otherwise talk to. Some groups even get to study the bible with our neighbors, and hear new perspectives.
Once we finish handing out popsicles and eating our lunch we join the worship service of Haywood Street. Worship at Haywood Street is unlike any worship most of the kids have experienced before. There is much more crowd involvement, people are allowed to speak their minds after the scripture is read. Anyone from the body is invited to serve communion. I’ve had communion offered to me by members of the youth group and a young adult wearing a shirt with a picture of Michael Jordan dunking. And, if you’re really lucky, sometimes the closing hymn will be “Celebrate” by Kool & the Gang and the entire congregation will form a conga line around the sanctuary.
As 3:00 rolls around and we end our day at Haywood Street, groups are typically exhausted. Wednesday afternoon marks the end of that week’s worksites and being in the sun all day in this summer heat can drain even the most energized of kids. Which is why there’s one Wednesday afternoon that stands out to me. We were all standing around waiting for the adult leader to bring the van around so we could load it with our supplies. The kids were playing corn hole and I was talking to a different adult off to the side. A man walked out of the kitchen pushing a silverware cart. On a typical Wednesday they serve between 200-500 people so you can imagine how much silverware there was. I heard a crash and immediately knew what had happened. I turned around to tell the kids to help him pick the silverware up but I no longer saw them by the corn hole boards. I continued my scan towards the cart and found that all of the kids were already on their hands and knees picking up silverware. Even after they were told they were done for the day, they did not hesitate to serve, and to serve humbly. Because the worksite might end, but flexibility pants and humility vests never come off.