Ministry of Listening

kate standing with st francis statue

Northside Syracuse, where the FrancisCorps house is and where our parish, Assumption Church, has its outreach ministries, is a diverse neighborhood made up of many small communities, each with its own culture and language. The population that Assumption ministries serve is among the most vulnerable and least remembered in the Northside: the families who struggle with mental illness, addition and generational poverty. At Friar Rick’s suggestion, I started what we have been calling a “listening ministry” in the Food Pantry at Assumption. I sit on the benches where clients come in for sandwiches or groceries, listen to the conversations around me and form relationships with pantry regulars.

I feel awkward there. It must be painfully apparent that I am not a pantry client and that I am in a world of which I have no experience. Sometimes pantry volunteers are confused why I am not working! Internally, I am shaken by the upheaval in these people’s lives because of their vulnerability, and I am angry that they are so often overlooked. I leave the pantry drained and exhausted, wondering if I have accomplished anything.

I have also been physically drained these past few weeks by a lingering ear infection, which both takes a toll on my energy levels and makes it harder to hear. That is right; the girl listening to people in the pantry is doing it with only one ear! I cannot help but be reminded of the blind man who cries for Jesus to have mercy on him so that he might see. I have been deaf to the plights of my brothers and sisters who come to the food pantry and I am still learning to ask for mercy of the Lord, that I might truly hear them.

The listening ministry is not only to hear the needs of those we serve, but it is also to affirm them as children of God. I am still deaf- or at least half deaf- and cannot hear their hearts, but I can try to reflect the love of Christ for the people who come to the pantry, who are now my friends, my brothers and my sisters. I am almost assuredly hopelessly naïve in many ways, but perhaps my youth and inexperience, which at first seems only inconvenient and exhausting to overcome, can allow me to create this position in the strange gray area between office and food pantry, between professionals in non-profits and the homeless who need their services, between Assumption Church as an institution and the Northside as a transient, argumentative, colorful community of folks just surviving.

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