What Can WE Do?

Last night our parish was blessed to once again host our annual Middle Eastern dinner, in which delicious, hot food was served up at a rate of one meal every 10 seconds, for three continuous hours. Sure, it was a remarkable sight in terms of efficiency, organization and culinary skill. However, as impressive as it was in those regards, those weren’t the most impressive things to me.

It’s easy to relegate something like a dinner to the periphery of the importance of what a Christian Church does. Against the obvious importance of the worship of God, administering the sacraments and expounding upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, how important can a putting on a dinner really be? Well, actually, I think really important.

There are many easily seen aspects of the importance of a dinner like last night’s. There’s the opportunity to welcome the public to our spiritual home. We offered a chance to tour our beautiful place of worship – dozens took the opportunity to experience the beauty, learn about the Orthodox Faith or just enjoy sacred space. After dinner–or simply after their dinner was loaded into their car to be enjoyed at home–we saw the appreciation on the faces of folks who had either worked a long day, or who just longed to enjoy a night out and really good food. We could point to the financial benefit to the parish, supporting our united ministry of maintaining a beautiful house of worship, teaching the Apostolic Faith, and reaching out to our needy neighbors with love and assistance.

All of those are important, and on their own would make this event worthwhile, however, to me, there is still one more incredibly important aspect of this event. When our leadership began to recruit parishioners to help in this monumental task, we encouraged everyone to ask one question: “What can I do to help?” We knew it would take the combined efforts of dozens of people to pull off this effort and so everyone was encouraged to do what they could; everyone was encouraged to do something. What I witnessed last night in seeing each person do their work was like seeing all the cogs in a large and complex machine working in rhythm. A seamless ribbon connected the folks out in the cold taking tickets and directing traffic and was woven through each person in the chain that began with a scoop from a pot and ended with a dinner being packed into a car or a plate being served in a beautiful room. It ran from the pianist filling the halls with beautiful music to the church tour guides pointing out the miraculous and eternal. And that was when it hit me: what began as “What can I do?” became “What can we do?” In a world that caters to the individual and by doing so inadvertently generates so much isolation and loneliness, we combined our individual time and talents and did what we did at the dinner, together.

Though a majority of our active membership was present and working, I truly wish every member of our parish could have been there to experience in a different context what we try to do at each Divine Service: the union of our “I’s” into a “we.” The word “Liturgy” is the united work of the people. While that happens at each service, let us be honest and say that we too often experience even those primarily as individuals. Our activities outside the Divine Services, especially ones like our Dinner that invite so many of us to join together in a single effort, are important experiences at understanding who each of us really is and how we are most ourselves when we recognize that we are part of a greater whole.

Our parish pulled off hosting this past summer’s Archdiocese Convention, and now we’ve put one more Middle Eastern Dinner in the books. These give us reason to celebrate but–after a brief rest–also challenge us with what remains to be done. Jesus once said, “My Father is working still, and I am working,” (John 5:17). So, if They are working, then we must be working as well.  It’s hard work, and it’s never-ending in this life, but working together in the Church–adding each of our “I’s” to become “We”–is one of the most rewarding things we can do with the life we’ve been given. Because it’s amazing the things we’ll be blessed to do, when we ask the question: “What can WE do?”