Sometimes at Worcester Fellowship our lunch line is just like Church. I hate it for its rigidness, its rules, its “lets keep you in your” place mentality. I love its for its hopefulness, its building of community while we wait, its promise of abundance at the end of the line.
As we wait in the park each Sunday I am impressed that the lunch line works at all. There are people moving into and out of the line, people looking for someone else to take their place in line, people arriving very early, people who arriving very late, the late ones worrying whether there is enough, and asking if they can cut ahead, and begging the line authorities to provide absolution for their lateness, or drunkenness, or disorderliness, and to provide a place further ahead in the line.
But as there are no shortcuts to heaven there is no cutting the line. Those who are late must wait behind a hundred or so hungry bodies to see what is the little snippet of the Kingdom today. Is it ham or bologna or tuna or will there be only peanut butter and jelly left when I get to the front? Is today’s message one of hope and abundance or one of despair and less sandwiches than people lined up?
“I’m hoping for tuna” Sam who is always a little late, always a little anxious, always in need of lunch for himself and his girlfriend, over there, on the pew-like bench by the fountain, Sam tells me, pointing. He asks as politely as he knows how: “Will there be any f’in, excuse me, any tuna when I get to the front of the line?”
Like all those in indoor church who need reassurances before worship starts, these questions drain me of the good news. I’m not a detail person. I don’t know if the Sunday School teachers are ready or the coffee is hot in indoor church, and I don’t know if the tuna will run out in outdoor church. We are here to proclaim release to the captives and I’m stuck in the sheer tediousness of getting started.
But before I can check on the tuna there is a fight brewing in front of Sam in the lunch line. Someone is trying to cut the line. An older white man I don’t know says quietly but firmly “hey, don’t cut” and I head toward the problem knowing that while many folk will sulk to the back of the line, others will simply leave if challenged on their place at this altar.
And so I was thinking about the order of people at God's altar as I was moving closer, looking up at a very angry young Hispanic man, noticing his hands clenched in his pockets, he was gritting his teeth, pacing a bit, but staying there, close to the front of the line, waiting for me, the authority, with my stole flapping around me. I said, as he expected, “you cannot cut the line.”
And he said his confession, "I haven't eaten in days."
And I refused him absolution, sticking to the agreed upon Levitical Commandment: "You have to go to the end of the line."
"Well then I won't eat." He sulked away in despair.
Harvey, a regular, and a good line following Christian could not contain his anger at this blatant disregard for the rules. "Why the f** do you always cut the line?" and "Why can't you go to the end of the line?"
And so the man came back screaming "I'll go anywhere I d*&$ well please" and "why don't you mind your own business".
And so now I am standing between two tall men, holding forth like Moses holding the waters, and saying in my most grown up, deep, calm, and forceful voice: "Stop fighting and do not cut the line." Repeat eight times.
And the line continues forward, like a prescribed liturgy, without the cutting man, without all those who cannot follow the prescriptions of order and predictability and neatness and beauty.
And then an elderly white man behind this whole scene, also very tall, the one who said "hey, you can't cut", the man just ahead of us, with the white shirt and blue stripes, he reaches the food table and takes one of everything without a word, a sandwich, an orange, a bag of chips, a box of juice, and heads back to the end of the line, stopping for just barely a second to hand the entire lunch to the angry Hispanic young man, the one who had tried to cut.
And then the elderly man waits in the line again to get lunch for himself, probably not tuna this time, probably peanut butter and jelly.
And I am reminded once again that this is, indeed, just like Church.
From Feb 18, 2016
More on Worcester Fellowship see www.worcesterfellowship.org.
For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.