When I was in seminary, a guest speaker came to one of my classes to talk about vocation. He said, “In one sentence, write down what kind of ministry you want to do.” I stared blankly at my paper. I want to do more than a sentence worth of ministry, I thought. I stopped over-thinking it and just wrote my thoughts. I scribbled down dozens of things, but the only one that really made sense to me in the end said: I want to feed people. That covered everything.
I get to feed people now in my current call. As a teaching elder at Lake View Presbyterian Church, one of my main responsibilities is Cafe Pride, our drop in center for street based GLBTQ and their allies every Friday night until midnight. We aim to provide a safe space for these youth just to hang out. We have dedicated volunteers who form deep relationships with the youth. We are an example of truly inclusive ministry and fight spiritual alienation without proselytizing or preaching at anyone. Cafe Pride is sacred time for us and a true blessing for our faith community.
That desire to feed people guides what I do every Friday night these days at Café Pride. When we started serving meals to our youth, it changed the atmosphere in the room and took some of the edge off our interactions. Having a meal for the youth every week establishes a level of trust – and gives them a reason to keep coming back! It gives us another tool for showing our compassion. It gives us all something around which to come together. When we don’t have much else in common, the transgender youth looking fierce and the church volunteers looking tired from work, we can share a meal.
When we don’t have much else in common, the transgender youth looking fierce and the church volunteers looking tired from work, we can share a meal.
This is because at Café Pride, food is more than calories. It’s sacred. Our shared meals satisfy a hunger deeper than the one in the pits of our stomachs. Finally, we are doing something that isn’t complicated or fraught with controversy. We serve food to the youth, and it is sacred. We eat with those who don’t usually get a place at the table, and it is sacred.
In the chaos of getting everything ready and the noise of the youth being youth, it isn’t the soft candlelight version of sacred we’re used to, but if you listen, you can hear the quiet glory of God in the ruckus.
One week, someone donated a cake to Café Pride – a whole half sheet! – and a few youth devoured two thirds of it. As the night wound down, we wrapped the final third of the cake, and I went to take it upstairs for coffee hour on Sunday. One of the youth joked with me as I passed, “Where you goin’ with my birthday cake?” I stopped and said, “Do you want it?” She hadn’t expected to be taken seriously, but her birthday was actually the next day, and she couldn’t afford a cake for her party. “I can just re-frost this one. I used to frost cakes at a Jewel.”
“Happy birthday,” I said and gave her the cake. She hugged me.
It isn’t the soft candlelight version of sacred we’re used to, but if you listen, you can hear the quiet glory of God in the ruckus.
That’s where the story ends. A birthday party with second-hand cake, a hug, and, well, I’d say the Kingdom of God. I don’t mean this to be a ‘yay-for-us’ story. We just gave away some cake. Café Pride isn’t about ‘yay-for-us.’ Café Pride is about being part of the lives of these youth.
It’s something of a miracle, when you think about it. The youth who come to Cafe Pride base much of their survival on never, ever letting down their defenses. However, they let us, a band of churchy do-gooders, be a small part of their lives – of their birthdays. How amazing, how sacred, is that? These youth, many of whom won’t even talk to their own parents, will sit down over a plate of hot food and tell us their stories. It is sacred. Cafe Pride is just one simple sentence of ministry: we feed people. But encompassed in that small act of hospitality, is the entire mystery of God and who we are called to be as followers of Christ. We feed people. That covers everything.
AUTHOR BIO: Alex Wirth used to live in Long Beach, California. Now he has his Masters Of Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and is the pastor in charge of building maintenance and social justice work at Lake View Presbyterian Church. Alex buys vinyl albums more than mp3s, tries to ride his bike more than drive a car, make/bake things more than buy them, and generally stick to a punk rock, do-it-yourself mindset like Jesus did.
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