A FRIEND OF MINE named Barbara thinks up church volunteer jobs for other people to do.
It’s a good thing, in this particular case.
Retired, she volunteers a lot of her time at the church. But some jobs are a bit outside her reach because she’s a bit past the age of dancing the jitterbug and doing back flips to celebrate the end of World War II.
Here’s her MO (modus operandi; it’s Latin for “method of operation”).
Let’s say, for example, it’s pouring rain outside on a Sunday morning. Drivers are dropping their families off some 10 to 20 yards (meters) from the church’s front door.
Barbara stands near an able-bodied soul and says, “Someone should get an umbrella and help these people in.”
Standing beside me at the time, Barbara might as well have been Jesus, renaming one of his disciples.
She had just renamed me “Someone.”
I grabbed an umbrella and escorted in folks of all kinds. Moms with babies. Elderly men and women. Tall people. Short people. Bearded biker men; awkward.
I’ve done this several times over the past year. Enough that I’ve taken to calling it the Mary Poppins Ministry.
I don’t think anyone knows about it but me and Barbara and a few of my friends who asked why I got to my seat late and soaking wet.
It happened again this Sunday. Pouring. Drenching.
I had just walked out of our Bible study class, headed to the second hour of worship; our church provides people with two Sunday morning worship services.
There was Barbara waiting for me.
“Are you going to do Mary Poppins?”
“Oh. I forgot.”
Honest. I had forgotten about Mary P.
It has been a long time since it rained at church-arrival time.
The church has a stash of huge umbrellas by the front door. I grabbed one and ran outside. A couple of other greeters were already doing the Mary Poppins thing, but they couldn’t keep up with the crowd.
One greeter had a poncho.
Don’t you hate it when people think ahead and you don’t?
I escorted all kinds of dry folks.
- A young redhead with twins, which she carried in little baby holders, one in each hand. She looked like a farmer gal toting two heavy sacks of tadders.
- A man with a baby and a toddler. They were leaving church after the first worship service. I escorted him to the Back Forty: the distant part of the parking lot.
- A burly man with a goatee. “Bearded men get umbrellas, too,” I told him.
I was wearing a white shirt that day. I don’t know how many souls I escorted, but I got wet enough that I told one of the other two Mary Poppins guys, “I’m glad I’m wearing a tee shirt. Otherwise my nipples would be showing.”
You can’t say something like that to just anyone. Especially at church. He’s a good friend.
There’s something unique I’ve noticed about this Mary Poppins Ministry: the exuberant response of the people under the umbrella with me.
As we’re running under the umbrella together, side-by-side, they thank me over and over.
It almost feels like they would give me money if they could get to it fast enough—maybe even the deed to their family mansion.
They are exuberant in their gratitude.
As I escorted one elderly lady into her car on Sunday after the first worship service, she simply said, “This is radical hospitality.”
What an odd thing to say, I thought.
Until I heard the sermon.
The pastor talked about going over the top and far out of the way to help others. He used the “r” word several times, including in the phrase “radical hospitality.”
It felt pretty good to hear that during the second worship service.
I was still soaking wet at the time, sitting in my chair with my feet outside of my shoes so my socks could start to dry.
It was time for me to feel grateful.
- Grateful for my friend Barbara, who saw a need I could help with.
- Grateful that God gave me the sense to pick up an umbrella and fly.
- Grateful that my nipples didn’t show.
That would be so not Mary Poppins.