This past Sunday (May 8th) I joined other volunteers from the church in serving a meal at Freedom House’s Community Shelter in Richmond. The Community Shelter offers more than just shelter and food to the 40 residents. The program is open to those homeless individuals who show signs of readiness for change in their lives and prepares them for that change during the 12 month-program. Lebanon has for years been serving 6 meals here yearly.
As we gathered to offer a blessing before the meal, there was an African-American woman that looked very familiar to me. But I could not place her. After a few minutes of trying to figure it out, I let it go and we served the meal and ate with the residents.
When the dining area had cleared out and us volunteers were left to clean up, she came back into the space. She hesitated for a moment, and then looked at me and said, “I know you. You’re from that church in Hanover. You gave me my Ebenezer.” Her face lit up as she remembered and she began to dance right there in the kitchen.
This woman was a part of CARITAS, a homeless ministry that works with churches in the Richmond area to provide shelter. Lebanon hosts CARITAS for two weeks in November, one of those weeks being the week of Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day the CARITAS guests stay at the church where we hold a worship service for them and serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
During the worship service we sang the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The second verse of that hymn says, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I come.” I had a bowl of water set out with small stones in the bottom. I explained that an Ebenezer was a stone of help and it was often used in the Old Testament to monument where God had helped the people. (See 1 Samuel 7:12)
I invited those worshiping to come up and to remember their baptism – the waters of grace – as they plunged their hand into the water to get an Ebenezer. I told them to hang on to that Ebenezer and let it remind them that God is with them; God is their help in trouble; and God will set them free. “Let this Ebenezer, that was drenched in the waters of grace” I remember saying, “represent for you new beginnings.”
“I still got my Ebenezer,” she said to me.
It was a very cool moment. I thank God for allowing me to be there that day (the first time I had joined volunteers in this mission project). And I thank God for allowing me to hear this woman’s story. “I’m in a much better place,” she said, “And I’m getting my stuff together.” And I thank God for the challenge this woman gave me in my faith. That being the challenge that when life gets rough, to cling to my Ebenezer.
“I still got my Ebenezer.” Do you?