Doug: I‘m Doug Barnett, a longtime member at St Aidan’s. As part of our commitment to year-round stewardship we are continuing to highlight ministries in which we share our time and talents.
Cameron: And I’m Cameron Partridge, your rector. In the relatively short time that I have been at St. Aidan’s thus far—especially in comparison to Doug!-- I have been struck by how many ministries of various kinds this community is a part of. There are varying levels of direct involvement that we have in them. Some we do almost exclusively on the volunteer power of folks who worship here on Sunday mornings. Some ministries we do in a combination of regular worshippers and folks from the wider neighborhood who may or may not worship elsewhere. Some ministries we engage both through our personal engagement and the support of St. Aidan's Community Ministries Board (“the CMB”), which is the case with the ministry Doug will describe. All of these modes of ministry connect and stretch us in community, giving us opportunities to be agents and participants in the good news of God, to be a people of restoration, reconciliation, and hope in a world that is surely struggling. The “we” of St. Aidan’s is vital and wide. Its borders are open and flexible. This “we” is on a wondrous journey, growing and changing, met and fed by God all along the way, urged onward into new terrain and new, strengthened relationships.
Doug: My wife Leonor and I have participated in a ministry called the St. Francis Living Room for many years. The mission of the St. Francis Living Room is to provide a clean, safe environment for low income and homeless seniors living in the Tenderloin. It truly has the feel of a “living room” and most of the clients, living in SROs (Single Room Occupancy housing) or shelters, do not have this luxury. We provide a daily hot breakfast and social and educational activities on a shoestring budget with mostly volunteers.
Cameron: At a time of intense economic disparity in San Francisco, ministries like St. Francis Living Room are so important. I am struck by how it provides not only food but also space, and not just any type of space but “living room” space. Space to relax, to live, to be welcomed, to live and be in community, space to gather and be sustained. The Living Room sounds to me like a sanctuary. A sanctuary is, as we know and have experienced here, both a holy place and a practice, a way of being in community—a way of opening up community to and for others. And as Doug has experienced through his own way of practicing it, sanctuary is a place and community in which to experience God’s call.
Doug: In my life God’s call has been a living thing, both a continuation of my past and an invitation in front of me, beckoning me on. When I showed up for a job interview at the St Francis Living Room 16 years ago, I had no idea that this would be a call for me to live out my Christian life. I know that now. My call and circuitry to God has invited me to extend the call out to others to participate in this special program. I retired eight years ago from the paid position, but I continue to participate as a volunteer. Other volunteers include senior client guests who move from being served to serving others.
Cameron: All of us have a call from God that we live out in various ways—not only through more obvious modes, practices or habits we can perhaps easily label as a “ministry” but also through all of our relationships, through our everyday interactions and practices. But the way Doug speaks of his vocation reminds me that amid all the twists and turns, its various modes, our vocation has an overall shape. All of it works together, moves in a direction into which God constantly invites us. Our call, as Doug puts it, is “a living thing.”
Call can also be surprising. I would wager that the dimensions of vocation that most surprise us may be the most distinctive marks of God’s impress upon it, upon us. God’s call in our lives can be so strange that we may not initially recognize it for what it is. In our first reading the oddity is downright humorous. Poor Samuel thinks he’s hearing his master calling him. And Eli initially can’t figure out why his apprentice keeps waking him up. Finally it begins to become clear. Eli instructs Samuel to say not simply “here I am”, as Isaiah said in our first reading last week. He goes a step further. Samuel is to say, “speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:10). Not just hearing, but actively listening. To receive God’s call we need to be prepared to hear things we might not want to hear, things that may make our “ears tingle,” as God goes on to warn Samuel just after our reading concludes (1 Sam 3:11). Our hearing may take us into new places or directions, to make new connections in what Doug wonderfully called a “circuitry to God.” Doug has, as he mentioned, continued to serve as a volunteer at the Living Room after retiring, and in that capacity has invited others into God’s holy circuitry.
Doug: Here are a few brief snapshots of my experiences in this community:
Frannie is a woman in her 80s of Portuguese/East Timor heritage who grew up in Shanghai, China during the second world war. She lives close to the Living Room. I would see Frannie passing by daily while I was working the door and would invite her in for a cup of coffee or tea. Frannie originally refused saying, “No, that is for poor people.” She didn’t want to take away food from more needy individuals. On the day she finally joined us, she started to make toast for the breakfast program. Well, that was 15 years ago and I’ve since calculated that she has made over 350, 000 slices of toast, earning her the title of “Toast Master General.” Frannie has become an integral part of the program, and she has found a family among us at the Living Room.
Bob is a regular client who became a daily volunteer. He is a Vietnam War Vet and suffers from the effects of Agent Orange. Bob lives on the street and is resistant to attempts to secure him permanent housing. The only real home he has is the Living Room. Bob’s talents are many, including calling Bingo – one of our most popular weekly activities. He is now known as “Bingo Bob.”
Alice is a 90-year woman from China. She is both gentle and feisty. Since she arrived at the Living Room a few years ago, she has been the unofficial greeter and translator for our Chinese community which has grown. Alice takes new clients under her wing, welcoming them and making them feel comfortable and part the Living Room family.
Cameron: When I hear Doug speak of Frannie, Bob, and Alice, particularly in the context of our readings today, I can’t help but think of our gospel passage and the story of David to which Jesus refers. Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field, hungry. When the disciples take grains of wheat to sustain them and are criticized by the Pharisees, Jesus pushes back. Was not their situation like that of David centuries earlier, he asks (Mark 2:25-26)? In that story from the twenty-first chapter of First Samuel, David is fleeing for his life from King Saul. He had just been warned by his beloved Jonathan, Saul’s son, that his father had indeed turned against him. The bread of the Presence, the only food available to him in that hour, sustained him and those fleeing with him in their vulnerability (1 Sam 21:1-6). As Jesus interpreted it, that sustenance was a sign that the Sabbath was made for human beings, not the other way around (Mark 2:27). To put it in slightly different language, the Sabbath is meant to refresh and sustain us for the ongoing journey, what Doug called the “living thing,” the “circuitry” of God’s call. Rather than refraining from eating toast or keeping it for more exclusive purposes, we are called to eat and share it, like Frannie, 350,000-fold. Rather than holding ourselves and our message back, we are invited to let the light of God shine out of the clay jars of our lives, in the spirit of our second reading (especially 2 Cor 4:6-7), to give God glory in our distinctive voices, like Bingo Bob. Refusing to be bound by the barriers of speech, we are called to translate it, like Alice.
Doug: One charm of the Living Room is that we know the name and special needs of each person that comes in for our services. The need in the Tenderloin has greatly increased: our average count is up from about 25 guests when we began to 75 guests each day. Each client guest is seen as a unique individual. In a city where the elderly are invisible, especially the elderly poor, the Living Room is a place where they are recognized and honored.
Cameron: May our Living Rooms be opened as sanctuaries of refreshment, and may we continue to grow in love and community, always keeping our ears and hearts open to truly hear and respond to the surprising twists and turns, the circuitry, of God’s living call to us.