Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Confessions Of A Tea-Lady

Is everything in place? I survey the Tea Table with a critical eye:

Urn:  full and switched on.    Check.
Tea, coffee, juice: All present and correct.
Mugs, milk, sugar, juice cups: OK

We're ready for the off. Some Mondays a vital element is missed, and chaos ensues when our people roll in. The importance of getting everything just so, cannot be understated. The Tea Table is the first port of call. The 'meet and greet' of the Salvation Army Monday Lunch. Volunteer Meryl offers to help. She's good, but unfocussed; regarding the Tea Table as a stepping stone to the job she's really on fire for, chatting to the clients. Me, I'm in my element. Smiling and saying hello is a particular strength of mine and I play up to it. I am glad of Meryl's help with the initial rush: she wields the teapot whilst I serve the coffe and oversee juice distribution. 

We are going to serve sixty or more lunches today. I see that we have three new faces, I make a mental note to follow up on the hello when things quieten down a bit. 

Johan takes two coffees for himself and Cordelia. I slip him a lawyers business card. Cordelia has an injury acquired at the chicken processing  factory and can no longer work. They sleep in a car. 

Andrew takes his tea black. He's a retired librarian and a polyglot. He once taught me to say hello in Serbo-Croat, but I have long forgotten how. He's Jewish, and very accommodating to we Christians. He knows the Law and The Prophets far better than we do, and loves an argument.

Dave's in today. Haven't seen him for weeks.  He's lost four and a half stone. He looks brighter, having just had his benefits reinstated. An official at the Job Centre sanctioned him( ie stopped his money) for non- attendance at a scheduled appointment that he hadn't attended because she's omitted to notify him about it Her superior eventually overrulled her. "You were lucky this time," the unrepentant official told Dave. 

Dave lost weight because he couldn't  afford to eat. "I'll come with you next time." I promise. 

Alex appears and offers to serve drinks whilst I move round the tables and chat.

Chris is looking rough. He's South African, a Catholic: former seminarian. I don't ask why he never became a priest. I discover he is a member of Opus Dei  "Do you know about it?" He asks. "Only from Dan Brown!" I laugh. Andy hears him say that he has no money, and having been in that situation himself, he butts in on the conversation and tells him where to get vouchers for the Food Bank.  

Welfare Officer at the Council Offices. I'm grateful to Andy. I'm often asked and usually refer people to , "Help The Aged", because that's where my brother got his vouchers when he needed them. Chris isn't old enough. 

I have a stack of books for Brian who now has his driver's license and  is looking SO much better now that he's receiving treament for PTSD. He opens the bag and rummages with genuine delight. 'Just what I wanted!" He exclaims at Darwin's 'Origin of Species'. I knew that, and having never more than glanced at it, was happy to hand it over. I hope, with all my heart, the more fundamentalist of the helpers didn't spot it! We Catholics have no problem with Darwin, or any human attempt to fathom the miracle of Creation. I gave him "99 Things To Do Between Here and Heaven" too,  having reasoned that I've done all the ones I want to (including starting this blog) and there's a spiritual reflection on each, that will lead Brian a little deeper, if he so wishes. 

I'm called over by Karen and Anthony to sort out a problem. My very favourite occupation, truth be told. "What's the difference between a Catholic and a Christian?" They want to know. Anthony's RC, Karen's C of E, and they are planning to marry in Church. Somewhere.

I throw myself eagerly into the fray. It's a useful discussion that involves everyone on the table. I was expecting hostility, but discover none. "Marry in the RC Church, and the Anglicans will bless it. That's how my daughter and son-in-law managed it. And you, young man," I wave my finger in mock-menace at Anthony, "Had  better get yourself off to Mass and book the Church!" Everyone laughs. 

"Look," I finish, "We volunteers are from many Christain denominations. We're here to do the job  Christ left us to do. What's important is this coming together, all of us, and sharing the love of God." 

Brian asks where I go to church, "Newent."I reply, "But if youre looking for somewhere, you couldn't do better than here." 

God Bless the Salvation Army. 

PS: All that I know of Opus Dei may be found here:


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