Dear Family of St John’s

I had some friends over for lunch a week or so ago and decided to make a butternut and feta quiche. It’s one my favourites, and the thyme that is added complements the flavours of the butternut and feta beautifully.

Unfortunately, no one had stock of ready peeled and chopped butternut. And so, I had to buy the whole vegetable and peel it myself. Now, I never used to have a problem with peeling butternut, until 21st April 2020.

My relationship with butternut was forever changed from that point on.

You might remember that this was the early stages of the Covid Lockdown. Many of our parishes were trying to see what we could do to continue ministry with church doors closed. At that time, I was serving at St Hugh’s in Newton Park. The rector of St Saviour’s approached us to see if we’d like to join forces with them in their soup kitchen outreach. And so began my relationship with butternut.

Now, to truly explain the magnitude I went back to some of the stats I’d saved from that period. In that first year we made soup three times a week. St Saviour’s are blessed with an industrial sized soup urn – it holds in excess of 200 litres!

My job was to peel the butternut before it could be processed and added to the pot. Fortunately, they also had industrial grade vegetable graters/choppers! Each pot of soup took 3 x 7kg pockets of butternut. In case your maths is a little rusty, that’s 21 kg per day… or 63 kg of butternut per week. That means I peeled about 2000kg of butternut that year (give or take, since some days we added more and some a little less).

It didn’t take me very long to find the perfect peeler and knife for the job. It took even less time before I decided that the job would only be done wearing a pair of surgical gloves. Have you ever tried to get 21kg of butternut-orange-stain off your hands?!

We had a team of people working, each at their own station doing their prep. Some were on onion duty (which is difficult when wearing a mask!), others on carrots. Some prepped the cabbages, or cooked the meaty bones that went into the soup. Other people prepped the Meal-4-Four dry mix which went out by the hundreds each week. Everyone did their bit.

We all felt a little less helpless, at a time when no one really knew what was going on, because we pitched in and contributed in some small way. In looking back at the records I kept over the time, I saw that in the first six months we made over 18 250 litres of soup, which equates to 60 833 servings.

Although I’m very relieved I don’t have to peel butternut anymore, I do miss a part of that experience. There was a bond that formed between the team that was very special. I enjoyed doing something that I knew was going to impact someone in a positive, and tangible, way. I also enjoyed being part of the team and knowing that the people who received their soup that day didn’t have a clue about the hours that went into the preparation. There was an anonymity to the work that appealed to me.

In our day-to-day interactions we are very careful to acknowledge everyone’s role in our teams. And this is good, we should appreciate everyone’s efforts. But sometimes we want to be anonymous, and just do the work without being noticed, without drawing any attention or receiving any thanks.

Our gospel reading for Ash Wednesday told us to pray, fast, and give to the needy without declaring our actions to anyone else (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21). Only God should know. The reading challenged me to try and find a way to serve others, for God, without drawing any attention to myself; to do things that would help someone before I was asked.

I wonder if you might like to take up this challenge with me?

It could be something like washing the dishes before being asked; making a cup of coffee for your staff team and just delivering it to their desk; picking up the groceries on your way home to save someone else from that task; putting on a load of laundry… the options are endless.

With each task that you do, give thanks to God for the person that you are serving, and what they mean to you. I think we’ll be amazed at how grace grows in each act of service.

Lord God, show me where I may serve.

With love
Your friend and rector,