A couple of Sunday’s ago the parish participated in a broad ecumenical event serving food to those in need. The event, Freunde von der Strasse, (Friends of the Street) was held at the downtown Roman Catholic Church of St. Martin’s. Food and service was made in part by the Anglican Church in Freiburg, the Old Catholic parish and the Evangelical Methodists. Over Saturday and Sunday there were volunteers that set-up tables and chairs, prepared meals, cut homemade cakes, and brewed dozens of pots of coffee.
I was deeply impressed by the level of expert organization as we all worked in shifts and had a variety of duties and tasks. I was equally delighted to see so many familiar faces both from the Anglican’s and those whom I have met in the other churches. My own time slot for helping took place after Sunday worship and I had the opportunity to pray in a short Methodist led prayer service, and to eat a delicious meal before I was on duty to serve the traditional 3pm Kaffee und Kuchen (Coffee and Cake) to the masses of people.
As I stood in line to receive my plate of food I decided to not join some of the other helpers, but to meet some new people. I sat in the midst of the tables in amongst the clients being served and tried to exercise my German language skills. No sooner had I sat down that a man came pleading to me for money for his five children claiming that they were all refugees and in need of money. That’s when the yelling started. A couple of women started yelling and screaming at the man and telling him to go away and not to bother me. The women claimed the man was a fraud and gives those in real need a bad name. (I had in fact seen this man kneeling on the street near the Munster begging for change with a small sign saying that he had three children, not 5). Despite all the yelling, I asked the man to join me and we talked about our own families and how we both ended up in Germany. I explained that I had no money to give, but we prayed for him and his family. He thanked me for taking the time to listen.
Once the man was gone one of the women involved in the yelling started to speak to me in near perfect English (with a twang of a Texan accent). She apologized for her outburst and recognized that everyone should be welcome, but she didn’t want me to be scammed by the stranger who came and left. It turns out that this woman was involved in the German military and spent three years at Fort Hood Texas, but now she lives a subsistence existence in Freiburg and is grateful for the food offered. Shortly hereafter one of my own flock came and joined me at the table for lunch and I had some more help in making conversation.
It was soon time for me to set to work. Instructions in German about where the cakes would be delivered, and how the coffee was to be set out. It is pretty easy to figure out if someone needs coffee as usually before I asked there were cups and saucers held up in the air and hands waving at me to hurry up and fill the cup. I joked with some of the volunteers as I carried three coffee carafes in each hand that I was getting training for this years October Fest serving 1 Litre steins of beer…I just needed the traditional dress to go with it.
During the afternoon as cake and coffee were consumed I encountered one grey haired man who spoke English, so I spent a short break sitting with him and getting to know him. He spoke of the place afforded to him at this event to eat a civilized meal and to be able to sit somewhere and not feel that he will be asked to leave anytime soon. This was his church, or one of the areas that he frequented and he was able to show me the cloistered garden in the back and describe some of the fragrant flowers in both English and German. The garden was peaceful compared to the boisterous interior with crowds talking and plates clattering.
As the day drew to a close many of those who had been served stuck around and washed tables, folded chairs and helped to sweep up. In one of the rooms, now empty and clean, I walked past the doorway and found the grey-haired man standing in front of one of the large crucifixes and smelling a flower from the garden. The room was absolutely still and it looked like a holy moment where both the body and the soul had been fed.
The day was exhausting, yet it was also exhilarating. I am convinced that these kinds of events show the love of Christ to those in need, and help us to meet Christ in the stranger. Each person is loved by God, and for some it is the first time in a long time where someone may listen to their story. The first time they feel served rather than scorned. The first time they can show that they too have a faith in the risen Christ as they speak of the revelation of God that they observe in a quiet fragrant summer garden. At the end of the day, despite all the cups of coffee I helped fill, it is I who feels served in the presence of those who met my gaze with a kind smile and genuine word of Thanks.