Live What the Bible Teaches

When I was developing the curriculum for our junior high school youth groups, I was excitedly explaining to a parent that outreach would be a key component of their program. She didn't seem thrilled with my ideas and rather firmly stated that she would prefer we teach them about the Bible. I was puzzled by her remark, and hesitantly replied, "I think that's what we're doing."

Over the years, my job description has included a wide variety of "tasks" - some by default, others by choice - and it changes as staff, vestry and volunteers rotate in and out. Some things I gladly give up when somebody wants them, while others I hold on to like a dog with a bone. Outreach is one of those.

About a month ago, I was finalizing plans for the junior high school mission trip which is a May weekend long "retreat" in Chicago. Accommodations were set, meals planned, Sunday liturgy and prayers reviewed, but I was struggling to find a community service project. Because we are staying at a retreat center in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood, I was hoping to find something nearby. I contacted a variety of organizations: The Chicago Food Depository (our kids are too young), Cathedral Shelter (no availability for that date), Holy Family School (nothing on a Saturday), A Just Harvest Community Kitchen (volunteers are scheduled through July), Chicago Cares (completely booked that weekend). Each one of the conversations I had with these organizations appreciated our offer of helping hands, but they also made a plea for financial support. I gave them the spiel about our annual outreach giving and assured them that if they submitted an application, our outreach committee would consider funding for them. But this didn't resolve my problem of finding a project for the junior high.

Because of its location in Rogers Park, a long drive from Bridgeport, Good News Partners wasn't on my list, but out of desperation, I gave them a call. [For the last three years, Holy Comforter has sponsored a Saturday parish community service project at Good News Partners during which we roll up our sleeves and work with the residents and staff to spruce up their buildings. We've cleaned apartments, painted hallways, moved residents, weeded gardens, and sledge-hammered sidewalks. In the process, we've built a strong relationship with them.] I was put in touch with their new volunteer coordinator, Shane. And things finally came together. 

Shane had been volunteering in the Rogers Park neighborhood for years, and, knowing it would be a financial risk, he recently decided to quit an unfulfilling job in the business world. Having a lot of free time on his hands, he approached Good News with the idea of creating the volunteer coordinator position - a role that was definitely needed, and he felt qualified to fill. In his words, "they laughed," admitting it was a great idea, but there was no way they could afford another staff member. Shane, refusing to be defeated, went home, thought and prayed about it, returned to Good News, and convinced their board members to hire him. This was, after all, his dream job, he had no other prospects, and he saw it as a win-win situation. So there he is - working harder, and probably longer hours than most people, at a job he loves, with the official title "Volunteer Coordinator," and he is the only "staff" member who is not on the payroll. He agreed to work as a full-time volunteer for one year with the hope that he becomes so indispensable that they will find funding for his salary. My guess is that a paycheck is not what he's really after.

While Shane's story amazed me, it didn't surprise me. When you work with organizations like Good News Partner, The Fabretto Children's Foundation, Connections for the Homeless, Cathedral Shelter, The Primo Center for Women and Children, Holy Family School, A Just Harvest Community Kitchen; when you build relationships with families going through a tough time, battered women trying to rebuild their self-confidence, undernourished children who save their lunch for their family's dinner, homeless men and women just wanting some respect, students striving for a good education in order to provide a better life for themselves; when you see how a simple donation of time, talent, or money can make such a huge impact - it makes you wish you had Shane's guts.

Church of the Holy Comforter provides ample opportunities to reach out to each other, the community, and the world. Current, ongoing, and upcoming outreach activities include the Easter Offering (with a "matching gift" offering), Cathedral Shelter Easter Laundry Baskets, Misericordia Candy Days, cooking for and serving at A Just Harvest Soup Kitchen, working with children at the Good News Saturday Morning program, the Mothers' Day Diaper Drive, the annual Housewalk & Holiday Boutique, youth participation in the junior and senior high mission trips. Whether it's hands-on participation or a financial donation doesn't matter; it's the fact that you're doing something that does. All you have to do is find something that you connect with, decide how to become involved, and show the compassion of a Christian heart and choose to make a difference.

I know this sounds like an "infomercial" you might see on early Sunday morning TV - cue the sad music; Angelina Jolie voiceover; pictures of flies buzzing around babies in Africa. But this is real life - this is Shane's life, and I'm grateful that it has become part of my life. And my final response to the mom who wants us to teach our children about the Bible . . . "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." [Matthew 25:40]

We can teach the Bible or we can live what the Bible teaches. We prefer the latter.