Every Wednesday evening, after groups have finished their last day of work sites and are participating in discussion and reflection during program, we do what we like to call “taking inventory”. We ask groups to reflect back on where they went, what they did, and who they met throughout the week. This is a time for them to recall favorite worksites, funny anecdotes, interesting observations, and meaningful interactions. It’s usually fairly easy to recall places they visited and things they did, but sometimes names slip away during the hustle and bustle of the day.
As we go to every work site, we always encourage the groups to get to know people—learn their names, have a conversation, make a connection—but we meet a lot of people and sometimes it’s difficult to recall everyone. Sometimes when people are remembered but their names aren’t, they’re identified by a nickname— Mr. No Ice Man, Suit Guy, Mad Hatter, etc. It’s understandable that sometimes names get forgotten. When that happens, identifying someone by the experience had with them is a good way to keep the interaction with that person alive. However, it’s important that when we remember people in this way we take care to remember them as real people and members of the community, not just as their funniest characteristic.
Last week while serving at Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen with a group, I ran into a community member, Andrew*, that I had spoken to several times before at another of our agencies, Love Wins Ministries. I greeted him by name, and we had a brief but warm exchange about how he was doing. Because of the rotation of interns through different sites every week, my RYM shirt is usually recognized before I am, but Andrew told me that he remembered my face from previous Love Wins visits. It meant a lot to me that I was recognized, and as I thanked him for it, he reciprocated with his own happiness at being recognized and left me with a simple but profound observation: “There’s a difference between standing out and being recognized.”
Because life is a beautifully funny thing and God speaks to us in the most serendipitous ways, the following Sunday I happened to be visiting a church during their sermon series on how we are labeled by society. Every Thursday morning, my Urban Walk route takes my groups and me past the corner of Morgan and Blount Streets where Church on Morgan (a table of Edenton Street United Methodist Church) is located. It just so happens that this holiday weekend was the Sunday that I chose to visit. As the guest pastor, Lisa Yebuah, began her beautiful sermon I was struck by the relevance the message had to the observation made by Andrew earlier in the week. The message Yebuah gave that Sunday denounced the worldly labels that can unfairly become part of our identity. Sometimes the world incorrectly names us with words like addict, screw up, lazy, dirty, or any number of hurtful titles. We can become so familiar with these names that it’s difficult to remember that our only true identifier is that which God gives us: “my delight” (Isaiah 62:4).
As I type, my notebook sits beside me opened to the page where I scribbled the parts of Sunday’s sermon that spoke to me. The paper marking this page’s place happens to be a bulletin from the service with large bold letters announcing where we are in the liturgical year—Ordinary Time. The words, which catch my eye every time I glance at my notes, serve as a reminder that as perspectives are changed and eyes are opened throughout the summer, the lessons we learn need to be taken home with us as we go back to our usual communities and should be practiced throughout the year…even in “ordinary time”. In the combined words of Andrew and Lisa Yebuah: There’s a difference between standing out as…addict, weird, lazy, dirty…and being recognized as a Child of God in whom God delights. If my time with YMCo has taught me anything, then it’s taught me this: Learn a name. Learn a story. Connect with others. We do share a name after all: Children of God.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our community members.