A Season to Linger

By: Louise Tischhauser

 “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, and in that waiting a new character in community; and in community, solidarity and hope for 2021 and beyond.”

Romans 5:4

We are all somewhere (or everywhere) on Paul’s spectrum. Suffering. Persevering. Building character. Hoping.

In these present times, it is a struggle to fulfill the basic tenets of hospitality. We are falling short of our core principles of generous invitation, warm and caring personal contact, and the simple benefits of sharing a meal around a table. Attention to protocols is necessary, but we recognize the compromise —— our connection to each other is endangered. Maybe in this present suffering, this persevering, we can fine-tune our community character. At Soulkitchen, our original mission was to befriend the most vulnerable and the lonely, first in Australia and now here in Vancouver; building resilient communities because of good relationships —— food, simply used as a tool to that end. We had to dig deep and be creative to find our way in 2020.

David Brooks, in his New York Times op-ed piece The Skill of Kindness, suggests that in times of conflict fatigue it helps to find a new narrative. This is the classic Dr. Bonnie Henry move – she changed the narrative in the early days of the pandemic. Her insistence that we offer kindness and compassion acted as a social vaccine of sorts. Helping our neighbour is an ancient healer. A shot in the arm that can ward off worry about the future.

It takes a certain amount of ingenuity to offer good service at this time, but as Brooks concludes ‘There are usually many more options neither side has imagined yet’. Now is the time to go back to the basics – while finding imaginative new practices.

Years ago, I completed my hotel management training in a swanky Sydney hotel. My stint in the main restaurant was challenging. Five-star service was expected.  Experienced waiters in starched black and white uniforms, waltzed across the floor like performers in a circus act, exquisitely balancing 4 or 5 colossal dinner plates on their arms. From the onset, I could barely manage two plates. In the intensity of the dinner service, I was under pressure to land the dishes on the right table, to smile, to offer the pepper mill, quietly clear the table and top up the wine. All these feats were to be executed whilst looking perfectly composed. I would retreat to the busy kitchen through the heavy swing doors only to take a breath and collect my Nettle-stuffed Ravioli or Wild Mushroom and Leek Terrine for the next table. I quickly had to work out how to survive. The choices on offer were efficiency versus a slower service package. I chose the latter.  I only ever performed with two plates, much to the despair of my manager!

So how do we move forward with service in these times? When can we pull back from some of these new practices of compromise – the increased reliance on food delivery services, the exponential growth of disposable meal containers, the lack of physical touch, and the explosion of screen time? What can we safely trade-off to encourage better human connection?

We all manage different loads. Some can carry six plates on their arm, and some come bearing food in an eyedropper. This is a time to practice your delivery. Do it well. Safely. Generously. Truthfully. Standing firm to Jesus’ call to love all. Women at wells, men up trees, people with or without masks. Take your time to serve. Encourage kindness whenever it comes near.

I like the word linger.

The best service we can offer is that which allows
the wheels to stop turning long enough to witness
the suffering or the joy. Unlike Door Dash
or Uber Eats delivery where efficiency is king, aim to
provide a slower service – one that lingers. One that delivers
hope by taking time to attest to life and truth.

The burden of mask-wearing, plexiglass barriers, and social isolation wears down trust. The antidote is found in simple compassion, and the steady signals of empathy shining through all that separates us. The act of lingering long enough on the scene to offer our attentive presence has a profound effect.

And now as we tenderly approach hope, perhaps we are fundamentally changed for the better – our character refined through the suffering and the perseverance. We have a chance at writing a new story – a reset.  I continue to place my hope in love that will result in communities that flourish. I have written these words on my wall to remind myself.

“May we find our foundation in the work of Love; demanding, tiring, true and human and holy.” ― Pádraig Ó Tuama, Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community

Soulkitchen, founded by Hannes and Louise Tischhauser, works in partnership with More Than A Roof Foundation to create healthy and vibrant communities by welcoming the marginalized and lonely to the table and into the kitchen. Soulkitchen also partners with the communities at Westside Church and First Baptist Church to assist with their outreach programs.

Connection stories in a time of distancing 

By Kari Bergrud

As we continue to wade through these challenging days of physical distancing and zoom overload, we wanted to share a couple of stories and resources on how to keep connecting during this time.

Meaningful Lineups 

Here at UGM, we serve anywhere between 600-800 meals daily. With the restrictions in place, we have had to move to a “to go” style of service which is similar to the take-out window at your favorite fast-food restaurant – there is little time to say more than “hi” and “thank you” as you pick up your meal. This is very different from the regular relationally based program that we normally offer.

Undeterred by this change, the Hastings Outreach Team got creative by donning PPE and expanding their outside presence. At every meal, regardless of the weather, the team heads out to the line to connect with people as they wait and offer hand sanitizer before they get their meal. Although this is not the ideal, there have been many positive conversations and life-changing interactions. For me, it is a reminder that despite physical limitations, when I find myself in a line up, (of which there are many these days) that there can still be an opportunity to nod my head to say “hello” or share a couple of words about how hard it is right now and find ways to meaningfully connect with people, even in a lineup.

Focus on Mental Health and Faith

Mental health and well-being is at the front of many of our minds due to social and physical isolation. Not that it hasn’t always been there, but these days there seems to be compounded grief and it can be hard to find positive ways to support ourselves and our communities.

In a direct response to this, our friends over at Sanctuary Mental Health has created Faith, Grief, and COVID-19: A Conversation. This resource addresses the questions so many of us are facing during this pandemic: How do we understand and process grief as people of faith? How can we support vulnerable and grieving members of our community while practicing physical distancing? Where can we find hope and joy in this season?

These four short films feature insights from a panel of experts with knowledge and experience in the fields of counselling, psychology, theology, and palliative care. Topics addressed include: the complex and dynamic nature of grief in this season, the presence of grief and lament in Scripture, the role that culture and faith play in shaping our experiences of grief, the importance of empathy and hospitality in the grieving process, practical ways to support those who are grieving.

We encourage you to set up virtual meet ups with friends or family to go through the accompanied discussion guide with questions, reflections, and prayers. The guide also offers tips for facilitation, best practices for online meetings, and links to further resources on mental health and COVID-19.

A different kind of meal delivery service

For Christmas this year, the Strathcona Vineyard Church took an ambitious leap and had congregants cook Christmas meals to share, which resulted in lots of amazing heritage dishes (e.g. Thai, Chinese, Korean) and turkey! They then collected the food and did staggered drop offs to households across the neighbourhood, together with cookies and gift cards that other friends had donated for people to enjoy on Christmas day. They specifically asked their extroverted friends to do deliveries to everyone. In the end, about 70 people shared in this unique meal exchange- bringing hope and hospitality over Christmas.

 For cats and kids

A friend from church recently adopted a kitten named Remus. He’s black with mittens and a patch of white on his chest that makes it look like he is wearing an undershirt. He is one spunky cat. As with most of us, this friend has felt disconnected from the rest of our community. In regular times, she often connected to many families at the church and went over to peoples houses for dinner, or for a good ol’ music jam session. With the desire to find new ways to connect in mind, Remus and her wrote a letter to the kids to ask them for help in making Remus some new toys. She put together packages of pipe cleaners and delivered them to a number of families. Kids were excited to get mail and parents were happy to have an activity for their kids. Also Remus was happy to get SOOOOOOOO many toys (which are only being given to him a couple at a time so that they will last).

From lineups, to mental health connection, to special meal exchanges, to cats and kids- there are many ways that we have needed to shift our ways of being this season to connect meaningfully. We hope that these stories spark some creative ideas in you or encourage you in what you are already doing. These seemingly small acts can make a world of a difference in our lives, reminding each other we all have value, we’re here for one another, and all inherently connected as one as image bearers of Creator God.

Book Feature

In a time and culture where even knowing our neighbors names comes as a challenge, The Art of Neighboring points us back to Jesus’ great commandment of loving our actual neighbours by relationally connecting with them in ordinary, creative, and manageable ways, which turns out to help ourselves and our communities to flourish in ways we would have never imagined. Click the link to buy the book and access helpful resources designed to help you neighbour well.

Podcast Feature

The Happiness Lab Ep. 4 Mistakenly Seeking Solitude

Technology allows us to bank, shop, and dine without talking to another human, but what toll is this taking on our happiness? The inventor of the ATM and the Talking Heads singer David Byrne join Dr. Laurie Santos to explore the ways in which talking to strangers can bring us all genuine joy.