Just a few days after returning from the beautiful and warm ReOrientation in Texas last year, the polar vortex hit the Midwest. My housemate and I were enjoying a snow day when we received an email request to serve as volunteers at an emergency overnight homeless shelter the very next night. After I had spent ReO wishing my community did more in regards to the pillar of social justice, we had received a direct and personal invitation to do something more, and there was a real and urgent need. So, my housemate and I went to the typically morning-only warming center at 10 PM, and spent our night cleaning and chopping potatoes for breakfast meal prep while folks in need of a warm place to stay slept in the pews of the Church. All we were was volunteers, extra sets of hands, young folks who could miss one night of sleep and bounce back pretty well.
I often describe the role of a JV in a placement as an extra set of hands in a place that could really use them. After I had been saying that for months, I was reminded of St. Teresa of Avila’s famous prayer: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands but yours.” My hands could do good, and that night at the emergency shelter clarified for me that I have a responsibility, a Christian obligation to do good.
This is how I ended up as a Sunday school teacher and an LGBTQ discussion group facilitator in my first semester of grad school, when I had planned to focus only on my classes and my job. I saw general emails requests in the student newsletter for faith formation instructors, but surely someone else would volunteer, someone who loved teaching. The week before faith formation classes were to begin, I learned that they still needed two more teachers. If they only needed two more, I could be one of them, and by the end of the day I had volunteered. I have now spent a semester co-teaching Sunday school to a group of rambunctious third graders, and they have shaped my theology education. I have such deep affection for them, even when they get rowdy.
The same thing happened with a request for an LGBTQ undergrad discussion group facilitator. I saw the request and thought again oh, someone else will volunteer, surely, so I don’t need to. The opening was still there a week later, and so I went and met with the coordinator, and shortly after I began meeting with a small group of extraordinary young queer people at Boston College. I am filled with joy to see them every week, and to assist with the same sort of group I had relied on in my undergrad.
If I had brushed off these chances to do good on the grounds that I was not the perfect volunteer for either position, I would have missed my chance to know and love my third graders and my undergrad students. Before my year of service, before that unexpected request to serve at an emergency shelter, I don’t think I would’ve responded to either request, relying on someone else’s more qualified hands to be of service. St. Theresa’s prayer reminds me that I can only do good with my own, imperfect hands, and JVC taught me that showing up with my imperfect hands ready to join in with others is how the necessary work of doing good, of being Christ for others, ever gets done.
“No Hands but Mine” by Julia Erdlen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.