Monday, August 22, 2011

Who is Charity For Anyway?

Is there such a thing as a "happy" Monday?!  I am, however, happy to say that I had a nice, productive and positive weekend; as usual, though, it was too short.

I rang in the weekend Friday night by joining friends at G's Place in Hollywood to watch the Dolphins go 2-0 in preseason.  Let's hope the 'Fins aren't repeating last year's trend of starting out like gangbusters, fizzling in mid-season and winding up with a mediocre season...again. 

Saturday morning I joined three good friends on a trek to Homestead.  TANGENT ALERT: I discovered there is a SW 312th Street in Miami; this was amazing to me as I live in NE 191st Street and I think once it gets to NE 2 hundred-some-teen street it turns into Broward County.  Funny the things you learn after only 25 years in this county. SMH

So, my good friend supports Bridge to Hope charity through St. John's Episcopal Church in Miami, and on the third Saturday of every month needy families gather to eat and collect groceries that have been donated/collected on their behalf.  We lined the table with the lunch she prepared: aluminum pans of pasta and tomato sauce, meatballs, caesar salad, rolls and chocolate chip cookies.    I was assigned to meatballs with the instruction of 2 per plate until everyone had been fed. 

At 11am we faced the crowd and started to serve. On my left, my friend grabbed an empty plate: "Salad? Pasta?"  She then handed the plate to me.  "Would you like meatballs?" I asked.  "A roll?"  I hand the plate to the pastor on my right whose job was to sprinkle grated cheese on the pasta, meatballs and salad.  He also handed out dessert: 2 chocolate chip cookies on small pink and red paper plates that read "Happy Valentine's Day".  And so the assembly line began.  Mothers of varying ages steered their children to the table.  The younger children could barely see over the table; it was quite amusing to watch their balancing acts - trying to hold their plates of food straight while they're eyes were bulging over the tray of cookies at the end of the line. 

The next 45 minutes was a blur of "Thank you" "No salad, please" "Gracias." "Oh, come on, can I have another meatball?" "God bless you all" "Can I take a plate home for my blind husband?" "Thank you so much for doing this" "Can I have seconds?"   Not everyone spoke English, but across the board their smiles expressed gratitude and appreciation.  I knew that for many of them, the meal we were serving might be their only hot meal of the day, if not their only meal.  I was humbled.  I felt such relief when we'd finally fed everyone and I was able to give seconds and 3, 4 and even 6 meatballs out at a time! 

After everyone ate, they lined up outside to receive groceries.  The stage behind was loaded with hundreds of plastic bags filled with various items: pastas, cereals, rice, canned goods, condiments, etc.  Each person received a minimum of 3 bags and more depending on the size of the family.  We fell into another assembly line: fill a plastic postal bin with 3-4 bags, slide it down the stage near the door where the line began.  We emptied the bins, handed bags out, and tossed the empty bins back to the stage until all the groceries were gone.  St. John's hooked these people UP!!!

When I agreed to volunteer for this, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I knew I'd feel good about my good deed for the day, but more important it was a powerful reminder of how fortunate I am that my basic needs are met and I don't need to rely on the kindness of strangers for my next meal.  I have an excellent support system of family and friends and I never want to take that for granted.  I do sometimes, and I need to remember my blessings.  Which all makes me wonder: who is charity for anyway?  I thought I was doing something to help them and it turns out it helped me. ... Can't wait til the third Saturday of September. ;o)

Monday, August 15, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

Yesterday I found my new home church: Trinity Church Miami.  It's rather ironic that after searching for/researching new churches for the last couple of months, the one that fit is the one closest to me. Blessings!

My younger sister Ashley accompanied me on this first visit. She hadn't been there either, but had heard good things about it.  We walked in about 8 minutes before the 11am service; I wanted to rush and find a bathroom before it began.  From the moment the doors opened I felt overwhelmed by the activity: people rushing back and forth, greeting each other and passing out flyers; bright and colorful movie posters for Toy Story 3, Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married and others lined the walls and pillars; TV monitors hung from the ceiling with "commercials" for various church events. I even made out two lines of people who I discovered were waiting for free popcorn and juice that were being distributed.  I saw attendees of all ages and races, men and women, and everyone was happy and bustling around.  All I could think was: this is a church??

I was raised Roman Catholic, which means I was baptized at around 6 months of age, made my First Communion in the second grade and was confirmed in seventh grade.  I attended private Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school graduation.  Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I believe that Catholics have a monopoly on a genuine personal relationship with God? Definitely not.  Every relationship with God (or whatever supernatural being you may or may not believe in) is a personal one and can't be globally defined.  Meaning, how I choose to manifest my relationship with God in my life is just that: my choice. 
But it's kind of hard to find a church that doesn't judge. One that truly embraces everyone and desires true community and acceptance of its members...all members.  Isn't that what the church is supposed to be?

I made it to the bathroom and then Ashley and I found seats in the auditorium just as the service was about to begin.  The lights dimmed in the auditorium and lit up over the stage; the monitors and screens throughout the room showed the band that seemed to just materialize on the stage.  The music started to play.  I suddenly noticed a choir of about 12-15 stood on the left of the stage.  The band began a praise and worship jam, calling everyone to stand up, raise their hands and clap to the upbeat Christian rock song.  The auditorium that had been fairly empty when Ashley and I walked in, was now PACKED with happy members, clapping and singing and dancing.  Again I thought: this a friggin' church?!?

After 3 great songs we sat and Pastor Robyn spoke.  She and her husband Rich are co-pastors of Trinity.  She discussed the myriad activities and events the church puts on and there are MANY! I've been looking for a way to get "plugged in" to a good community of fellowship and it was refreshing to find a church that has a lot of ways to get involved and meet new people.  A couple of the other churches I tried were limited: Sunday service at 10; Wednesday bible study at 7 and that's it about it. 

Then it was time for Trinity's At the Movies August series.  In an effort to increase attendance during the month of August, which apparently is the month with the lowest church attendance nationally, Trinity came up with this series of teaching through the use of current films.  The message for the day -- staying on the path God lays out for you -- was explored through Toy Story 3, and we watched several clips of the film with brief discussions of the moral lessons rooted therein.  It was lively, interesting, creative and relevant.  It was a treat to be able to discuss Christian lessons in an updated, relatable way.  Next week the movie is Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married. I'm very much looking forward to that.  Imagine; watching movies --good ones-- in church!

Ashley and I left the 95 minute service and I was invigorated. We were greeted by Pastor Robyn in the parking lot. I introduced myself and told her it was my first visit.  I extended my hand and she opened her arms and hugged me. It could've felt awkward but it didn't.  Actually, what I thought was: I finally found my church. :o)