A Circle of Service

circle-of-service(Mary Erickson is one of several First UU members who volunteer at St. Paul’s AME Church in partnership with Sunflower Community Action.)

Unitarian Universalist Beliefs in Action

There is a surge at twelve o’clock sharp and a steady stream for awhile thereafter. Some are families with children, but many come alone. Not all of them want the fruit or vegetable; most don’t pass up the entree or dessert. At twelve-thirty when it’s certain there will be enough; they’re invited back for another plate. Some are homeless, others, unable to find work, are hanging on to their living space month by month. They’re usually out of there by one o’clock. Some leave without a word, others voice a quiet –“Thank you.” These are Wichita’s poorest, who have come for a free meal at St. Paul’s AME Church.

We Wichita UUs, who have come to help as part of one of the church’s social action programs, are humbled by our experience. We are impressed by the quiet dignity of this downtrodden segment of our city’s population. But we’re also in awe of the men and women of the parish who have been coming to their church these many years to prepare and serve the nourishing lunches. Norma, who stood next to me as I dished out the peaches, explained that her service dates back some fifty years. “They won’t let me in the kitchen anymore,” she says with a twinkle in her eye, “so now I help dish out the food.” The parishioners come in on Thursday to begin the preparations donated by the Kansas Food Bank and “the Topeka office.” They’re back on Friday morning by 9:00 o’clock to do the cooking and set up the lunch and tables. There is much camaraderie observed and laughter heard as they welcome us into the fold.

At one o’clock, when the last diner finishes his meal, the well-organized group tackles the kitchen and has it gleaming in short order. Darrell, a tall, unassuming man, cleans the entire dining area, brushing away attempts to help with a simple “That’s my job.”

We came to give service but have quickly come to the realization that partnering with St. Paul’s AME in this endeavor is benefiting us as much as those we serve – the parishioners, their UU helpers, and those we serve are joining hands in a circle of service.

Mary Erickson