At Memphis Youth Mission, one of the community partners that we go to every week is St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral on Wednesday mornings for a worship service that is open to everyone, and they mean everyone. After the worship service, the group will help serve breakfast to those who attended the worship service and others from the community.
For me, this service site has been particularly meaningful. MYM had an Episcopalian group come earlier in the summer and I had the privilege of sitting next to one of the group leaders during the service. She was overwhelmed by the joy, love, and compassion shown to those who normally would not be so welcomed in a traditional church setting; she wept at the idea that this church was opening its doors to anyone and everyone that wanted to come in. It was a powerful experience for me to watch her during the service and afterwards during the breakfast, talking to people and helping welcome those on the margins.
Every week that MYM has gone to St. Mary’s and helped serve breakfast, I have done the job of helping clear the trays after people have finished eating breakfast. I met Jerry, who wipes the plates clean and stacks them, the first week of the summer. Jerry is a retired Episcopalian minister who has “nothing more meaningful to do” on Wednesday mornings than help clear and clean trays. Over the summer, Jerry and I have been able to talk and get to know each other over dirty plates and cups. I told him that after this summer, I would be a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington D.C. and he told me about his 5-year-old twin grandchildren. Today was my last day helping Jerry clear trays at St. Mary’s. I came up to the cleaning station and awaiting me was a present that Jerry had handmade for me as thank you gift for a wonderful summer of service together. Jerry made me a wooden block with a butterfly on it and the word gratitude painted on to it. He told me that he was grateful for the time that we had shared together and for the work that I had put into the summer. I told Jerry that I in turn was grateful to have shared such a wonderful time of service with him and for everything that he had shared with me.
At the end of this summer, Jerry’s gift to me shows me the ways in which service impacts people at every level. Yes, we are there to serve those who are normally not served with the dignity and respect they deserve. But, it showed me that there are different levels of service, that I was in service to Jerry just as much as I was in service to those eating breakfast at St. Mary’s. Overall, I think that is one of my biggest lessons from this summer—that we are in service to one another and not just those that we think need our help. I am forever thankful for the chance to have gotten to know and serve with Jerry and for every experience I have had working at MYM this summer!