A Soup Hour Sermon
by Parish Administrator Dottie Andersen
One of the scriptures we read today is from Second Corinthians: Since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.
By God's mercy, we have been called to minister and to be ministered to here at Saint Matthias. Our congregation gathers on Sunday morning to learn more about God, to celebrate the Eucharist, to worship, to have fellowship with God and one another. We bring the children to hear about the love of God in Jesus, and our young people learn how to walk as Christian people. We attend classes, participate in small groups, and eat meals together, enjoying the church family God has given us in the Saint Matthias congregation. We are blessed and encouraged and taught and fed.
But sometimes we forget about the second congregation here at Saint Matthias. And it is this congregation about which Father Bill asked me to speak today. We don't see many members of this other congregation on Sunday mornings or at our dinners, meetings, or other gatherings, though they would be welcome to join us. And yet, they very much belong to Saint Matthias. They are an integral part of the ministry of this parish. And they, too, are blessed and encouraged and taught and fed.
I am referring to our guests who come to the Saint Matthias Soup Hour each weekday afternoon to eat a hot meal.
Why do we serve meals here at the church?
You remember that when Jesus was teaching the multitudes, the disciples were concerned about the people getting hungry.
“Better send them away to buy some food!” they said.
“No,” said Jesus. “You feed them.”
There are still hungry people in the world, and the words of Jesus still echo to us: “You feed them.” That’s why we serve meals here at the church.
When I was asked to speak on the work being done for the hungry people at the Soup Hour, I wondered if the facts and figures of the program belonged in a Sunday morning message. But in the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, it talks about who was fed, what they were fed, where the food came from, how the people were organized, and the procedures involved. And so I felt better about sharing this information as we consider the ministry to which God has called us.
Some of you who are here today could speak about the Soup Hour from years of personal involvement as volunteers and contributors. But some are fairly new to the parish, and have yet to discover all of the wonderful things that happen here.
At the Saint Matthias Soup Hour, we serve a hot meal to anyone who wishes to eat each weekday at 3 PM. Some of our guests are long-time residents of the streets; some are only recently homeless. Others live in nearby low-income housing, and just run out of money before they run out of month. Our guests range from the elderly, with walkers and wheelchairs, to toddlers in strollers. We serve about 20,000 meals each year. Plus seconds. And thirds.
The Soup Hour was started thirty-some years ago when the Rector saw a man digging through the garbage for something to eat. The people of Saint Matthias answered God’s call to this ministry, and they have remained faithful to it ever since. Some of the food we serve is paid for by grants. Other food is donated from food drives or event leftovers. Your tithes and offerings pay a large part of the cost of the program.
We have an incredible corps of volunteers, a few from Saint Matthias, and most from the wider community. They prepare nutritious meals and serve them with a smile. But people are hungry for more than a meal. An important aspect of the Soup Hour program is respecting the dignity of every human being: Each volunteer is a person who gives to our guests a connection to the rest of the human family. Sometimes the workers at Saint Matthias are the only people in a guest’s day to greet them, to be glad to see them, and sometimes the meal is the only one they get that day.
Jesus gave us the Golden Rule. We attempt to treat people as we would like to be treated. We learn people’s names, and their stories. We share in their laughter, their tears, their lives. And as we get to know people, we become aware of other needs.
So the Soup Hour program has expanded to include more services.
Over 250 people currently receive mail in my office. And many California state IDs sport Saint Matthias’s address. Hygiene kits are distributed, with toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, etc. Blankets, socks, shoes, shirts, jeans, jackets, laundry detergent, and other donations are given away daily. Another need we discovered is transportation. So we began an ongoing drive for funds, to pay for bus fare to get to work, school, doctor’s appointments, etc. Later we started another fund to help pay for prescription co-pays, gas, laundry, bike parts and other needs. Most of the money for these two funds comes from the pockets of some friends of mine.
A nurse practitioner and a registered nurse visit Saint Matthias twice a month and provide basic urgent care, physical assessment, and referrals. People are told about services available at various agencies, such as groceries, showers, shelters, and assistance with obtaining identification. We all work hard, day after day, year after year, doing, as Father Bill would say, the loving thing.
You, the people of Saint Matthias, are known all over Whittier for reaching out to your neighbors with love and compassion and something good to eat. It is by God's mercy that you are engaged in this ministry. And I am grateful to God for the opportunity to work with you.
Thank you all very much. God bless you.