Something pretty miraculous happened to me about a month ago, and I am still trying to process what it meant and its impact on me.
As many of you know, for the last almost nine years, I have been the Deacon-in-Charge of the In The Garden Ministry at Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square. This is part of the reason that I leave immediately after the second service to get downtown in time to coordinate the meals and worship service.
Over the years I have experienced the deep faith that some of these people have, in spite of their mental illnesses and rejection from the majority of society. They may not be educated in theology but they embrace and really try to live their daily lives following Jesus’ commandment:
Love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:31)
No matter the situation and the alienation from the ‘normal’ or mainstream, they still are a closely-knit community that takes care of its own.
At the end of July, In the Garden hold their own version of Mass in the Grass, or as we call it “Mass in the Garden”. All the volunteers work together to provide a picnic in the garden space between Trinity and the Glimscher Building. This year we had over 160 people come and celebrate with us. And celebrate we did; for the fourth time in nine years, we celebrated Eucharist on the steps of Trinity Church. And the majority of the people lined up and received. Seeing the line for communion going from the church steps to almost State Street was a marvelous witness to God’s love for all his people.
But it was during the clean-up after the picnic that the biggest miracle happened. We always have a group of men and women who help us clean up after each of the meals. This allows all of us to get home a little earlier on Sunday afternoon.
Because we were outside, there were a lot of tables to be taken down and transported back to the undercroft. Some of the tables would be loaded into a Core Team member’s trunk. I was resting, leaning on a stack of tables, with two ‘regulars’ who had done a yeoman’s job of breaking down and stacking tables. These gentlemen were older than I, and had probably spend their entire lives in day labor or menial jobs. We were all resting, leaning on the tables with our hands in near proximity.
Suddenly, one of the men reached out and gently touched my hand. The other one started to pull his hand away and said ‘you can’t touch a white woman’s hands’. This took me back, but I did not move my hand. I told him it was okay, I didn’t mind. With all the tenderness one would use to caress a baby, he gently rubbed my hand and fingers with amazement in his eyes. In all my life, I don’t ever remember anyone touching and stroking my hands with this much respect. As he stroked my hand, he said
‘you feel just like me’, ‘we really ARE the same’.
I don’t know what kind of impact this small act had on the two men, but I know for me, until the end of my life, I will never forget that experience: someone who was so bound by social convention, that he had NEVER touched the skin (or person) of a ‘white woman’. And who, by this experience, discovered the universal truth, that
WE ARE ALL THE SAME –
Not only under the skin, but also in God’s eyes.
Written for Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church Worthington and Parts Adjacent, August 2016