I’m not sure how this blog-post is going to go. I want to share a moment with you all that seemed to sum up one of my larger takeaways from this year. I don’t have any pictures of the moment and, to be honest, I’m not sure if I can fully describe it. It’s so simple, yet changes so much for me.
It was after bible-study at Mercy. We were preparing to go out on the streets, so everything was in flux. People were zipping about, gathering their stuff to leave, picking up chairs to stack up, sweeping, wiping down tables, filling coffee machines, washing dishes, etc., etc., etc. There’s sort of a peaceful chaos to this time of day. There’s order, yes, but one rooted in disorder. Things need to be done by a certain time, but there’s not really a fixed checklist of priorities to run down.
I’m responsible for getting it all done in the end, so I’m in constant motion, shifting from task to task, acting as worker, liaison and delegator. Nevertheless, a wonderful part of our community is the way everyone shares a sense of ownership over our space, so even as I work on whatever I’m doing, there are generally several other people all working on something else, often unasked and unprompted. It’s a team effort, and I’m not ashamed to note how I am here, as happens so often, lifted by the community at large.
Standing behind the kitchen counter, I got lost for a moment in the thread of my thoughts, trying to identify where next I was most needed. I scan the room, looking for an item out of place, or a coffee stain to address when I find my eyes latching onto a scene of strange serenity in the center of all the motion, like the eye of a storm.
Pastor Chad is leaning over one of our members, I won’t use his real name, so let’s call him Bradwick. Chad is wearing an apron; in his hands is an electric razor and by his side, the table we usually adorn for worship is holding a variety of hair-clipping equipment. Bradwick is sitting on a chair, with an improvised smock around his neck, looking calm as Pastor C makes some finishing touches on a style Bradwick himself had requested.
This is not an abnormal sight at Mercy. Most days I would pass over it unblinkingly, but in that briefest of pauses I realized how extraordinary such a mundane truth such as this is.
I work in a church. In this church, giving a haircut is ministry. It’s not just that. It’s relational. This isn’t a one off occurrence; if there is time to spare, at any given point a haircut is possible. Bradwick has gotten his hair cut before, and Pastor C knows how he likes it cut. After it is done, Bradwick gets up, goes to the bathroom and checks his reflection. Pastor C asks how he likes it. Bradwick says it’s good. And then the next person comes up and asks if he might have a turn.
I have heard a lot of our members express to me, especially in the context of the clothing closet, that they feel uncomfortable seeking jobs because when you live on the streets, looking unkempt is pretty much inevitable, and judgement by “respectable” society even more so. How can you expect to get employment when it looks like you haven’t showered in a week? Why would you even want to try when doing so will, more often than not, leave you feeling belittled and cast away?
A haircut is a basic affirmation of human dignity. It’s intimate too. There is a closeness to cutting hair that requires as much trust, if not more, than the usage of cutting implements does. Here it is not only given freely, but people feel comfortable asking of it. Feeling clean and kempt should be a right for everyone, and when it is wanted we do what we can for each other.
I may be overreacting, but isn’t this beautiful? Could ministry be something more than heady rhetoric? I’ll be honest, I’ve seen a lot of that from Church in my life. What would Church, or even secular communities be like, if such embodied care was the norm? I don’t know. This kind of stuff isn’t taught in seminary, or, in my case, the music department, but it feels worth doing nonetheless.