Alumni Tuesday, Erin Guzman, MDiv’15
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He said to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” – Luke 14:12-13 (NRSV)
After graduating from VDS this past May, I found an incredible job opportunity in working with Luke 14:12, a non-profit soup kitchen that feeds hungry, homeless, and working poor folks in Nashville. I work as the volunteer coordinator and administrative assistant, and I could not have asked for a better role or a better organization with which to work.
Luke 14:12 was founded in 1983 by a woman named Miss Laura McCray, whose heart and compassion for sharing meals with those who were hungry became the inspiration for weekly meals served out of Edgehill United Methodist Church. Although Luke 14:12 began at Edgehill UMC (but was never a part of their ministries in any way), it quickly outgrew the space. After years of serving out of different churches and venues, weekly meals are now served at Room In The Inn’s Campus for Human Development off of 8th Avenue near downtown.
Meals are served at noon every Tuesday and Friday, as well as the 2nd and 4th Mondays of every month with the help of individuals and volunteer groups from more than twenty different faith communities and businesses around Nashville. At each meal, Luke 14:12 serves an average of 250 guests, many of whom are disabled or homeless veterans, but we also see families with children, migrant working poor, and many others. No matter what the circumstance of the individual(s), we don’t ask questions. Anyone and everyone is a welcomed guest at our tables. There are no requirements for admission. No particular faith must be proclaimed. The banquet tables are set, and our guests are invited in for a hot, nutritious meal.
When I’m at Luke 14:12, I see community and hospitality, sharing and receiving, joy and warmth—actions I have never seen in the same way in any church I’ve ever attended. Regardless of context, our guests come. They share. They mourn and grieve. They laugh. They are thoughtful. They eat. And most of all, they are seen and heard. Our community of guests reflect the Eucharistic and eschatological realities of the Kin(g)dom breaking in, disrupting—if only for a moment—the criminalization of poverty and homelessness. VDS taught me to think about these circumstances, broadly speaking, but it’s something completely different to see Eucharistic and eschatological moments right in front of you. Time and space are created for our guests – time and space that may not be available in other parts of society because poverty and homelessness are not tolerated in hyper-capitalist, imperial economies. In this respect, I hope I’m not being overly romantic when I say, that Luke 14:12 is a special place where important work is happening, not just because we’re meeting basic human needs, but because seeing our guests, hearing their stories, and helping make this organization run has made real for me why my time at VDS matters. I am seeing my education—a long, three year journey—do something meaningful in the world.
I realize that Luke 14:12 cannot solve all of the complex problems and realities of poverty, homelessness, affordable housing, hyper-policing, racism and mass incarceration, lack of access to education and resources for veterans and disabled folks. But we do our best to make small steps where we can. Through our G.R.O.W. program (Grace, Respect, and Opportunities through Work), we employ folks experiencing chronic homelessness and pay a living wage for part-time work preparing meals, which hopes to offer job skills, mentoring, and work experience so our employees can find stable work and housing. Although this is a small effort, it is a mighty one that models possibilities for ending poverty and homelessness. It sets the tone for the work we do: We’re not just feeding, but we’re helping people grow and live better, too.
In that way, the G.R.O.W. program urges me to consider: What happens after the guests have been invited to the banquet in Luke’s gospel account, chapter 14? Where do we go from here? How else are we being called to help those who are marginalized and excluded from the table? I don’t have answers yet, but I am beginning to dream.