I woke before the 4:45am alarm and that was a gift. I had the opportunity for some time of quiet before throwing on some clothes and getting in the car to leave home at 5:00am. It is the early start that is usually the most difficult part of the day but this morning I seemed to have an unusual level of energy.
As I entered the CBD I drove past Laurie.* I think Laurie is an octogenarian but as he bundled his bags into the car he told me of his new job, his 61st job in 60 years. He is a warden on a building site. Tales, long and tall, but undoubtedly true, bubble forth as we make our way to the church crypt just a kilometre away. No sooner than we arrive one of the volunteers who happens to know my brother waxes lyrical about my brother’s new car. It is a small world we live in, yes less than six degrees of separation.
I enter the crypt, set up as a place of hospitality and a refugee from the cold winter morning, with all the appropriate COVID safeguards in place- social distancing, hand sanitiser, register of participants, facemasks those serving etc. Chris calls out wondering why she did not get the email that I had sent last week. One wrong letter keyed into the address bar had resulted in a bounce back. She was keen to view the videos of the interment of her friend’s ashes that had taken place the 9 days ago during homeless persons week. COVID had prevented many from attending but, like so many memorial services these days, it is up on YouTube. COVID is the topic of many of the conversations: conspiracy theories are debated vigorously, there would be little point in expressing alternative views even if one could get a word in. My role is not to convince anyone of my point of view, rather to listen with open ears, mind and heart.
Barry arrived a bit later than usual and his head was a bit more downcast than usual, although Barry is never very jubilant when he arrives. What is miraculous is the transformation that comes as he feels heard by someone listening attentively from the other side of the table, whether it be the woes of promised employment evaporating, the miserable state of his boarding house or the delight from viewing some golden oldie at the cinema. Barry has a spring in his step as he leave the breakfast each week.
And what a breakfast it is on offer. Early arrivals help themselves to and array of cereals, yogurts, bread, fruit buns and juice. The urn is constantly on the boil with bottomless cups of coffee, tea or milo, usually made to order by one of the smiling volunteers. By about 6:20 a line starts to form, a socially distanced line of course, in anticipation of the hot banquet, with such abundant choice that the 50 or so guests hunger for. Fresh toast, bacon, fried eggs, sausages, hash browns, slow cooked mushroom, fried rice, stir fried vegetables, baked beans and condiments to match. Plates are piled high and there is always an option for a take-away or two. Some think that the piece de resistance is Sue’s home made Bread and Butter Pudding, served with a scoop of ice-cream. Most would leave with one or two of Jan’s chocolate bars in their pockets.
Wonderful as it is, many are not drawn primarily by the food on offer but by the community that gathers. This is a place where all are welcome, idiosyncrasies tolerated, faith restored, hope enlivened and lashing of love …
Johnno was particularly agitated this morning; he is usually loud but deafeningly loud this morning. But many sat and listened as he ranted about one injustice after another. It was hard to hear Andrew’s analysis of world affairs and domestic politics amid the din, but he persevered. Samuel raged about his frustration- his job provider insisting he apply for 10 jobs a week despite him being one of a million people seeking work at present.
Stephen and I began a pleasant conversation as we made our tea and coffee at the urn before returning to his place where his big plate of food was waiting. Over the next half hour without touching either his coffee or food he gave an exegesis of Jesus walking on the water. In his disjointed English, which required intense concentration to follow, he critiqued various interpretations of the miracle, drawing on variations across different Biblical translations, coming to his own sense of how Jesus is revealed as both human and divine. Then he asks that I email him my interpretation. I left in awe of his faith and with much to ponder.
As I leave after 2 hours of offering a listening presence, tables and chairs are being sanitised, the second hand clothes and books are packed away and volunteers, some of whom have been on site since 4am are washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. It will all start again tomorrow, and again next weekend and the one after. Offering not only food but food for the soul each weekend.
* Names have been changed to protect identity.