This past Sunday, our high school youth, friends, and a few chaperones hopped the Bremerton Ferry over to Seattle for our annual Socks and Sandwiches event. Several years ago, that’s basically what this event was – a pair of socks for your feet and a sandwich for your belly. All comers receive until we run out. Now it has evolved a bit with full lunches and water, socks, mittens, scarves, hats, and other warm clothing items. And it has included increasing donations from our congregation, increasing numbers of youth and adults participating (one year our total topped 50 people), and this year lots of homemade items, including Seahawk and Mariner scarves that went FAST! It’s a great event, and for obvious reasons. People who – for whatever reason – are on the streets of Seattle, get a good meal and some warm, dry clothes. Obvious, right? Here ends the blog. But honestly, this isn’t the main reason we do this.
Any event we do as a congregation (or any other place in our lives probably) should ask the question, “Why are we doing this?” And my answer to this would be, “To trade yarn for yarn.” The best – and sometimes hardest – part of this service event is that we trade socks for stories (are you feeling the yarn for yarn?) There is an exchange, of sorts, without cost to either party. Part of the orientation each year on the ferry ride is to make sure we are not just handing out food and clothes and moving on, but that we ask the name of those who receive, and that we shake hands or make some other kind of appropriate contact. And it always amazes me how much of a response comes forth. Sometimes these stories are amazing stories of faith; sometimes they sound like pretty tall tales; and sometimes they are tales of hurt. My favorite event was several years ago when someone came running to me and said, “Pastor Jonathan, we need you right away.” I followed them around a block of concrete to a park bench where a woman was sitting and sobbing, her lunch and socks set next to her. One of our youth was holding her hand and listening intently to her pain poured out. Another youth was sitting beside her gently rubbing her back. I smiled at the person who had run to get me. “Looks like they got this,” I said.
This is not always the case. Many folks say thanks and look away. Or we miss the opportunity to take time to listen because of our fears or assumptions . I remember having a conversation with an adult one year who wondered if we were really doing much good, or just here to have a fun trip with friends to Seattle. Each of us need to ask the “Why am I doing this?” question as well.
Sometimes the stories are uncomfortable to hear. This last weekend, a group told me they had one woman thanking God for them, and another angrily denying God’s existence, grace, etc. My group heard stories of faith, thanks, political view, bravado, and one young man who stopped us to tell rather random stories about his family. I think he just wanted to be heard, to be connected, to tell us that he mattered in his own way. And, while it was a little awkward, we waited for him to speak his peace, and it was clear that was what he needed most. In fact, I would say there is an overarching sense of appreciation for those who get a chance to be seen and heard that goes beyond the handout.
There is a reason Jesus listened to people before meeting their needs, a reason he touched those seen as unclean, a reason he mixed feeding with teaching and story. This is something we all need – to be heard – and to hear the voice of the other, especially those we find so easy to ignore or exclude. And when we are engaged, we find that this is more than just a one way street. Something happens – at least potentially – to the peripheral vision of our faith, to the width of our shared story, and to the depth of our connection with the people God loves so much as to touch them and feed them and hear them and see them.
For those who continue to nurture this, and other opportunities for us to connect, we give you thanks.