As delivered to the Reverend Gayle A. Jones-Lockhart (pastor) and Reverend Bonnie Williams (itinerant elder) and seven interested parties (all were congregants, I believe) at the African Methodist Episcopalian church in Bay Point California USA Sunday February 5, 2017 at 2 PM.
Could I please have a show of hands for who is ordained? Who has a bachelor’s degree in divinity? A master’s degree? A doctoral degree?
I am informed that it is unprofessional, unseemly and un-Christian for one clergyman to comment how another faith ministers to its congregation. So I’ll be speaking as a secular consulting mathematician.
Of some concern should be that not so long ago the Food Bank used to deliver groceries for 60 people. It was cut to 48, and I would say it was very rare to serve more than 40 people. Someone more knowledgeable than I about the local demographics might assert that there has been an usually high death rate among Bay Point seniors, but I know of no (zero) economists who want to assert that financial life for seniors in Bay Point, Contra Costa County, California or the United States of America has improved. So I would infer that there is some factor that outweighs the reward of free food. An interesting question that one might ask of the Food Bank and other suppliers is have people who formerly obtained food here shown a tendency to obtain it elsewhere?
Last Thursday I volunteered at the Food Bank produce distribution at Ambrose Community Center [down the street fro the church] as I have done for a long time. EIGHT people took the time in pouring rain to ask when I would be volunteering again here. I believe that was one hundred percent of the people I recognized Thursday as customers here.
As a working mathematician I am fairly numerate, so one task I used to undertake here was to count the bread, rolls and other baked goods and compare the number to the bill of lading. The objective is to get 96 or more useful items. So I would call it to the truck driver’s attention if it appeared we were short a tray (8 to 12 loaves) or if there were problems with mold, torn wrappings and so on. Likewise, I’d mention it to the driver if we had more than 110 items for fear we had someone else’s tray.
For those of you who are not familiar with the process, there is quite a range of baked goods and of customer preferences. I make it a point, as much as I am able, to pay close heed to what kinds of bread individuals want. There is no point that I can see to give someone high-fiber multi-grain, which they will discard because all they can digest is sourdough.
Over the years I have been reliably informed by two Roman Catholic Cardinals, two Franciscan friars and several dozen clergy that one duty of a volunteer working in a sacred precinct is to be mindful that he or she represents the congregation. That is, while a building is constructed of stone and wood, a house of worship is built from the inner souls of the congregants. A second message, frequently delivered in both words and actions, was that another duty was to recognize the presence of immanence in each individual. That is often interpreted to mean greeting a customer, making eye contact and verifying any requests about bread or anything else. I also pass along any news about events of interest, and mention when the next distribution will be. In most Roman Catholic hosted events there is a third obligation which has to do with considering the whole person. That is, the volunteer is supposed to discern whether the customer might benefit from interaction with a priest. This can take the form of referrals for shelter, medical care or spiritual sustenance. The matters of spirit might include recommended prayers, the Sacrament of Confession or a blessing.
When I was writing computer software for non-governmental organizations, typically in Africa, the challenge was to deal with thousands of displaced people from very disparate backgrounds. That meant extensive sensitivity to a wide variety of cultures, languages and religions. Typical was to provide sanitation, nourishment, medical care, shelter and spiritual reinforcement to 3,000 people per camp per day. Generally, the answers to over 100 questions per person were taken into account. So I am confident that giving the right loaf of bread to 10 of 30 people once every two weeks is achievable.
By the way, while I think of it, is there an attorney present? I suggest that you consult one because I believe no church can exert any control over a volunteer. You can make your displeasure known to the Food Bank, but, unless the law has changed in the last week or so, that is all that can be done. There is no employee employer relationship, and the church can exert no temporal authority.
While we are on the subject, there’s a doctrine in law called “res ipsa loquitor” which translated from the Latin is “the thing speaks for itself”. So if a surgeon leaves a sponge inside you, it does not matter how he did it. It only matters that the sponge is there. I would say that for millenia religion and mathematics have both tried to discover what exactly different things were saying. In that context, bringing bags outside to cars, bicycles and handcarts reduces congestion at the single door and improves customer throughput. Further, not to be too critical, but not all customers here drive the best cars, so reducing the time spent and eliminating another engine start is good for everyone’s lungs and the customer’s wallet.
Having a small line of cars to be loaded decreases the chance of an accident caused by backing out of a parking slot or entering through the exit. In addition, for about one-third of the customers getting into and out of a car even in good weather; using a walker or cane to go to the building; and then struggling to carry the bag is a burden.
In my limited readings of the thoughts of the Right Revered Richard Allen [born a slave; he paid for his freedom and went on to found the African Methodist Episcopalian Church in Philadelphia] my amateur’s impression is that he was a conservative interpreter of Scripture. As is well-known, in Matthew chapter 18 verses 1 through 6; Matthew chapter 19 verse 14, Mark chapter 10 verse 14 and Luke chapter 18 verse 16, there are frequent references to little children. There is no mention of ‘suffer the seniors to come unto Me’.
In some branches of economics one can assert that the strength of any human group can be measured by how it treats its weakest – in this case, the old, the poor, the disabled and the language-challenged. As a mathematician, I would be inclined to quote Daniel chapter 5 verse 25 where the Aramaic is usually translated as “measured, measured and found wanting”.
May the Peace of Christ be with you.