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Communion With* The Poor

This article is the first in a series of reflections on my experience this summer living and working at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia. The Open Door Community is a residential Protestant community in the tradition of the Catholic Worker Movement. Open Door seeks to dismantle racism, sexism, heterosexism, abolish the death penalty, and proclaim the Beloved Community through loving relationships with some of the most neglected and outcast of God’s children: the homeless and our sisters and brothers who are in prison.

Three times a week, the Open Door Community shares a meal inside of our kitchen with our friends who live on the streets. Before every day of “hospitality,” the residents, volunteers, and friends of the community gather for reflection in the late morning. Now, if you’re a college student like me, sunlight before 7am is potentially fatal; as a result, most days I had no time to really prepare a breakfast for my sleepy head. Most mornings I was left scrambling to put together a simple meal of buttered toast and coffee.

As I made this meal several times a week, I remembered different stories about coffee and bread, as well as encounters I’d had since committing my life to people living in the streets and prisons.  Dorothy Day’s writings observe that before there was a Catholic Worker soup line, there was first a bread line during the Depression, where the unemployed would lineup for blocks just to get a shot at some filling bread and warm coffee. A friend of mine who is a death row chaplain says that between getting home late from the prison and waking up very early to get back to the prison, she has no time for any breakfast beyond coffee and toast to wake up and stave off hunger before lunch.

Today, Western diets restrict or eliminate the consumption of bread in order to lose weight, even though the economic ability to refuse to eat bread is itself a massive privilege. Coffee has become a symbol of worker exploitation in South America as the importance of fair trade and sustainably grown coffee becomes more evident and mainstream. And yet, in most cultures, bread is the most basic staple of nourishment and a symbol of the “poor man’s food.” As the 14th-century poet Hafez wrote,

“Love
so God will think
‘Ahhhhh,
I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
for coffee and
rolls.’"

At the Open Door, we believe that Christ comes in the guise of the stranger, the homeless, the prisoner, and the outcast. Every time we share a meal with our friends in the soup kitchen, we are sharing a meal with Christ. Every time we huddle around a cold biscuit and a lukewarm cup of coffee, we are connected to the poor throughout the world because these are the staples of nourishment for day laborers, for those in bread and soup lines, for those working in fields, for those who serve them, and for all those who do not have the luxury of or time for a full meal. Isn’t that the very point of the Lord’s Supper – to be united in communion and remembrance?

What if Christ was around today? If Christ comes to us in the guise of the marginalized, what kind of meal would he share with his friends today? While most of us don’t drink Welch’s Grape Juice and Hawaiian Sweet Bread together as a part of our everyday meals, many of us daily consume coffee and toast. I am inclined to think that Jesus might use coffee and rolls to teach us how to “do this in remembrance of me.”

Every time we drink coffee and eat toast, may we be united with the least of these everywhere who might be eating and drinking the same thing before their labor. Every time we drink coffee and eat toast, may we remember who is represented in these new elements, the poor of the world who grew the grain and the coffee, and the Christ who comes hidden in this disguise. Let us reimagine what the Eucharist is and can be, and how we can remember and be united. Let us reimagine and remember the broken, homeless, immigrant, executed, brown Body of Christ.

Comments

  1. Lynn Ives says:
    Great article. I have said for years that if Christ was here today he would be with the poor, the uninsured, the prostitutes, the drug addicts, in the prisons, in the bars, on the streets...anywhere there are marginalized children of God...what we do for the least of these we do for Christ...sometimes the organized church forgets or shuffles this to the back corner. Thanks for a way to, each day, remember God's children who are in much different circumstances than we yet, yet who have that same connection to our Lord.
    Sep 6th, 2013

Autumn Dennis

Autumn Dennis is a native of Nashville, Tennessee and is a senior at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee. She studies religion, is passionate about social justice, organizing, and activism, and is engaged in ministry with the children of God on the streets and in prisons. She is a freelance writer and is a declared candidate for deacon in the United Methodist Church.

About This Blog

Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.