By Al Barkve
Years ago, as a camp counselor while in college, I had a few devotions that I kept handy in a small beat up red book that I kept tucked in a waterproof backpack. (I liked the devotions that were a little “off-beat” I guess.)
A favorite was called “Brass Communion Rail” and I don’t know the author. It is a devotion about a young female college student that was doing a two-month internship in a very rough neighborhood bar on the eastern shore. While working as a bartender, she was actually observing and researching the behavior of people living in poverty that drank heavily.
This was very different experience than her upbringing, since she came from a wealthy family and was majoring in sociology at an Ivy League school. She intended to be a social worker. She dressed in worn clothes, and was convincing enough as a bartender. She rationalized her job to all there by telling everyone she needed to make some money to go back to school someday. And for the internship, she logged her observations and experiences dutifully in a journal for later analysis.
As I recall the story, she was younger of course, attractive, energetic and friendly and became a fast favorite of the local bar denizens, the regular heavy drinking crowd. After a time of getting to know her, they would go out of their way to watch out for her. They would make sure to arrange to have someone trusted and sober to drive her home in this rough neighborhood at bar closing. They also – without her knowledge – made some adjustments to coarse language at the bar, and enforced the new rules at times with steely stares at the offenders.
When two months passed, she announced that she’d be leaving and her last night bartending would be that Saturday.
Among her regulars, nobody was in the mood for a celebration, in fact, there were all heartbroken – but they had seen plenty come and go.
As the last Saturday evening wore on, one of the many bar regulars motioned her over. The small group told her in no uncertain terms that she was “far too good for this place, and for the likes of them.” They handed her an envelope with over $3,000 cash (an astonishing amount of money for people living at poverty level) in it, and told her to “get back to school, and they wished her all the best – but did not want to ever see her back in that bar!”
That devotion always told me something that members of St Michael’s already well know: You find the power and love of Jesus so many places and in so many people on the outside of a church – not just inside of the church. As we spend our time in the coming weeks and months ahead outside of the church [building] – know that God’s love is always present, especially in times of sorrow and sacrifice. When people are down and out, we are all still capable of kindness, thoughtfulness and selflessness. Our gift of Jesus’ time on earth is “imprinted” on us, and we will experience that love and grace on the inside of the church (definitely!) and on the outside of the church too!
Prayer: God, we give thanks that Church (our St Michael’s congregation) is not just inside the walls of the St Michael’s church building. We pray for protection and patience to face our challenges. We pray for your love beyond borders, faiths and economics. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Bio: Allen Barkve is a member of St Michael’s, married to Kelly, with two adult children Marit and Nik. Allen has traveled in the US extensively during his 39-year career and has been the recipient of hospitality, kindness and exceptional levels of service from people in the transportation, hotel and restaurant industries. People that care are everywhere.