A season to linger

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The Church Relations team at Union Gospel Mission will post a new edition of InCommon (including this comment) this week; go to the end to sign up for InCommon.

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, and in that waiting a new character in community; and in community, solidarity and hope for 2021 and beyond. Romans 5:4

We are all somewhere (or everywhere) on Paul’s spectrum. Suffering. Persevering. Building character. Hoping.

In these present times, it is a struggle to fulfill the basic tenets of hospitality. We are falling short of our core principles of generous invitation, warm and caring personal contact, and the simple benefits of sharing a meal around a table.

Attention to protocols is necessary, but we recognize the compromise – our connection to each other is endangered. Maybe in this present suffering, this persevering, we can fine-tune our community character.

At Soulkitchen, our original mission was to befriend the most vulnerable and the lonely, first in Australia and now here in Vancouver; building resilient communities because of good relationships – food, simply used as a tool to that end. We had to dig deep and be creative to find our way in 2020.

David Brooks, in his New York Times op-ed piece The Skill of Kindness, suggests that in times of conflict fatigue it helps to find a new narrative. This is the classic Dr. Bonnie Henry move – she changed the narrative in the early days of the pandemic. Her insistence that we offer kindness and compassion acted as a social vaccine of sorts. Helping our neighbour is an ancient healer. A shot in the arm that can ward off worry about the future.

It takes a certain amount of ingenuity to offer good service at this time, but as Brooks concludes, “There are usually many more options neither side has imagined yet.” Now is the time to go back to the basics – while finding imaginative new practices.

Years ago, I completed my hotel management training in a swanky Sydney hotel. My stint in the main restaurant was challenging. Five-star service was expected. Experienced waiters in starched black and white uniforms, waltzed across the floor like performers in a circus act, exquisitely balancing four or five colossal dinner plates on their arms.

From the onset, I could barely manage two plates. In the intensity of the dinner service, I was under pressure to land the dishes on the right table, to smile, to offer the pepper mill, quietly clear the table and top up the wine. All these feats were to be executed whilst looking perfectly composed. I would retreat to the busy kitchen through the heavy swing doors only to take a breath and collect my Nettle-stuffed Ravioli or Wild Mushroom and Leek Terrine for the next table.

I quickly had to work out how to survive. The choices on offer were efficiency versus a slower service package. I chose the latter. I only ever performed with two plates, much to the despair of my manager!

So how do we move forward with service in these times? When can we pull back from some of these new practices of compromise – the increased reliance on food delivery services, the exponential growth of disposable meal containers, the lack of physical touch, and the explosion of screen time? What can we safely trade-off to encourage better human connection?

We all manage different loads. Some can carry six plates on their arm, and some come bearing food in an eyedropper. This is a time to practice your delivery. Do it well. Safely. Generously. Truthfully. Standing firm to Jesus’ call to love all. Women at wells, men up trees, people with or without masks. Take your time to serve. Encourage kindness whenever it comes near.

I like the word linger.

The best service we can offer is that which allows
the wheels to stop turning long enough to witness
the suffering or the joy. Unlike Door Dash
or Uber Eats delivery where efficiency is king, aim to
provide a slower service – one that lingers. One that delivers
hope by taking time to attest to life and truth.

Louise and Hannes Tischhauser are devoted to building resilient communities.

The burden of mask-wearing, plexiglass barriers and social isolation wears down trust.

The antidote is found in simple compassion, and the steady signals of empathy shining through all that separates us. The act of lingering long enough on the scene to offer our attentive presence has a profound effect.

And now as we tenderly approach hope, perhaps we are fundamentally changed for the better – our character refined through the suffering and the perseverance.

We have a chance at writing a new story – a reset. I continue to place my hope in love that will result in communities that flourish. I have written these words on my wall to remind myself.

May we find our foundation in the work of Love; demanding, tiring, true and human and holy.  Pádraig Ó Tuama, Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community

Soulkitchen, founded by Hannes and Louise Tischhauser, works in partnership with More Than a Roof Foundation to create healthy and vibrant communities by welcoming the marginalized and lonely to the table and into the kitchen. Soulkitchen also partners with the communities at Westside Church and First Baptist Church to assist with their outreach programs.

This comment is from the first issue of InCommon, from UGM’s Church Relations team. Here is some more background and a link to sign up:

There is a wealth of resources to share with each other which can inspire and equip us as we join in on God’s work of bringing Shalom in our neighbourhoods.

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