August 5, 2016
“YOU BELONG HERE NO MATTER WHAT,” reads the sign outside Broad Street Ministry in the heart of Philadelphia—a city where deep poverty and rapid gentrification exist side by side. The sign’s bright green lettering is one of the first things people notice when walking by the church’s arched façade.
Having grown up in the South, where nuanced laws of etiquette shape even the smallest interactions, I never expected to learn about hospitality in this proud underdog city. Nevertheless, seeking an opportunity to discern God’s call to me in an urban entrepreneurial context, I was drawn to a 1001 New Worshiping Communities apprenticeship as a pastoral associate with Broad Street Ministry. I’ve learned that this ministry practices radical hospitality by providing an expansive range of social services throughout the week to some of the city’s most vulnerable people. Guests arrive daily to share a restaurant-quality meal at a linen-lined table, obtain clothes and personal care items, participate in the therapeutic arts program, and access many other stabilizing services.
Whether from homelessness, violence, or abuse, each guest is experiencing some form of trauma, which calls for thoughtful care. With attention to the whole person, Broad Street strives not only to meet guests’ basic needs, but also to develop a sense of community, hope, and self-empowerment. No matter how many people pass through the doors, Broad Street commits to serving each person, never running out of food or compassion. Although the outside world may meet guests with scarcity and disgust, at Broad Street each person receives assurance there is always enough—enough food, enough time, and enough care.
These same assurances of sufficiency, which volunteers and staff offer guests throughout the week, extend from the Communion table, where Broad Street’s worshiping community gathers every Sunday. There is always enough bread, enough juice, and enough grace for everyone, no matter what. Servers extend fresh loaves to shuffling kids, to artists and social workers, to people who grew up in the church and to those who haven’t been to church in years. Each tears off a generous handful, too much to enjoy in one bite, and dunks it in the juice. These ordinary elements of bread and juice are signs of God’s deep love and abundant forgiveness, reasons to hope against all odds.
From the seven meals Broad Street serves to guests throughout the week to the one shared in worship, the message is the same: “You belong here. No matter what.” The invitation to belonging is one we never extend alone, but offer through Jesus, who has already prepared a place for each person. Because Jesus, who experienced suffering as well as joy, graciously invites us to the table, we are empowered to welcome one another. Trusting that Jesus is already at work in the world around us, we are free to participate in it without fear of failure or resistance to change.
Since September, Philadelphia and its people have expanded my understanding of invitation and welcome, as they have encouraged me to attend to God’s presence in this city and the world. I am grateful for an apprenticeship that has offered me so much more than I could have hoped. It has instilled in me a sense of profound belonging within the church, which God is constantly making new. Trusting that we’ve been welcomed to tables lined with linen or covered in crumbs, may we all recognize Christ’s invitation to pursue our various callings with imagination, kindness, and courage—no matter what.
Julia Watkins, 1001 New Worshiping Communities apprentice and associate pastor of Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia
Today’s Focus: Presbytery of Philadelphia
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Heavenly Father, your unconditional love inspires us to be loving, welcoming, and hospitable to our neighbors. Pour into our hearts your compassion; strengthen and guide us as we go forth to make your kingdom tangible. Grant us your peace and surround us with your presence. Amen.