Poetry and Potatoes

Last year, as my husband and I closed up the Stewardship Committee’s vegetable garden, we mused about what might be our next volunteer activity as a couple.  I missed the fellowship experiences of the garden and wondered what God had in store for us.

As a follower of Christ, I wanted to volunteer for an activity that was honoring to God and creation, whether or not it qualified as a ministry.  I wanted to steward well my volunteering.

We thought globally a few days later when a friend from the Stewardship Committee forwarded an article to us about how to join a group that takes much-needed medical supplies to faraway countries.  I also revisited Parkdale’s Congregational Ministry Opportunities website (www.parkdaleunitedchurch.ca) and checked out Volunteer Ottawa’s website (http://www.volunteerottawa.ca).

I felt that God was nudging me to consider opportunities outside my comfort zone.  “Let me think about it,” I said to God. “Perhaps I will consider a broader experience when our teenagers have moved out of our home.”

Of course, God did not stop nudging.  A week later, I ran into an old friend and his mother.  They were eating a mid-afternoon Thanksgiving Day dinner at a local restaurant where the owner is well known for his unceasing philanthropic works. 

Not surprisingly, our conversation moved to the topic of volunteerism.  The mother beamed as she talked about how she loves to work with the senior citizens at Grace Manor.  My friend mentioned that he volunteers each Christmas at the Carleton Tavern, which is just a couple of blocks away from Parkdale United Church. 

“The Carleton Tavern serves approximately 600 free Christmas dinners each year to the less fortunate and those seeking companionship,” he said.  “They even have gifts from Santa Claus for each of the guests.  It is something that I like to do.  It is very rewarding.”

“Yes, I have heard about the Carleton Christmas dinners,” I replied.  “Our minister, Anthony Bailey, helps out there each year on Christmas Day.  I am not quite sure where he finds the energy after leading us in two Christmas Eve services.  I guess God gives him the strength.”

I forgot about that conversation until two months later when my husband and I ran into my husband’s friend.  We asked about his plans for Christmas.  “My wife, our daughter and I always volunteer at the Carleton Tavern for a couple of hours on Christmas Day.  We really enjoy it.  You are welcome to join us if you would like,” he suggested to us.

Once again, I felt God’s spirit working within me.  “Sure, we would be pleased to help.”  I smiled as I remembered my Thanksgiving Day conversation with my friend and his mother.

I must admit that I was somewhat nervous as we began our two-hour serving shift.  I had never waitressed, and let’s just say that remembering food orders is not among my Spirit-given gifts.  I recall that one couple ordered a meat pie and a turkey dinner ― a pretty simple order.  By the time I arrived back at the table with the food, I had forgotten who ordered the turkey and who ordered the meat pie.  I felt a bit embarrassed and decided to keep my day job.

After a while, I began to relax.  A couple of adults and a little girl were in my section of three or four tables.  The little girl lit up with joy when I brought her a gift from Santa.  I noted that she had finished all her turkey and that she was about to start eating her potatoes, which she had arranged into a moat around a pat of butter.

A single gentleman was also seated in our area.  He introduced himself to my husband and me, giving a first name only.  Seeing our name tags, he shook our hands and greeted us by our first names.  He was an elegant, well-spoken gentleman who seemed particularly appreciative. 

As he prepared to depart, he asked whether my husband and I would be working for a few more minutes.  I confirmed that we would, and he replied that he had been treated with such kindness that he wanted to give us a poem, a copy of which he had in his car. 

A few minutes later, he returned with a beautiful autographed poem on parchment paper.  At the top of the page was the Canadian flag.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I read his inspired words.  The poem spoke of Canada’s great mountains and undulating landscapes; a diversity of people in a great land where one is not more or less than another.  “Surely, it must be the promised land.  Promised ― to us all,” it read.

Is there poetry in a couple of hours of volunteering and a pile of potatoes?  When God is involved, one never knows…

Respectfully submitted,

Barbara Hennessy

Chair, Stewardship Committee