Since I started at St. Ben's Community Meal in Milwaukee, WI as Chaplain and Volunteer Coordinator, I've had many opportunities to give talks in front of groups. Whether they be 3 college kids, 15 high school students, 22 seminarians, a classroom at Marquette University, or a confirmation class of 200+ adolescents...I've been asked to give a number of talks since I've been here.
When I first started, it was a 10 minute talk about hunger in Milwaukee. I knew nothing of hunger in Milwaukee; I was still kicking dirt from Grand Rapids off my shoes! But as with all things I've learned here during postulancy, I read and learned. I listened to people who were in the know. I took time to study, dig up facts, and even pray about finding the words to best convey the message I want to send.
Here's a few of the topics I'm usually asked to talk about:
- Conversion - As a former car salesman and poker dealer, my life has drastically changed by no longer chasing money or climbing a ladder of status. By trying to live the Gospel and see all people as creations of God, I have come to a new understanding of life and a pursuit of a greater vocation.
- History - Starting as a store-front Catholic church by a black layman in 1908, St. Benedict the Moor has a long history in the city of Milwaukee as a mission to the African-American population, then later to the homeless and hungry.
- Social Justice - St. Ben's focuses not just on the immediate needs of the homeless and the impoverished. By working through agencies, advocates, and by teaching and sharing the stories of the poor and marginalized, we at St. Ben's try not just to stop the symptoms of injustice, but also work on the root problems.
- Vocation - By allowing students, adults, and professionals to see the life of the homeless, the programs in place to address those needs, and making them aware of the problem, we encourage people not only to just think about how to fix the problem, but to become involved as well. Often times I am asked about my particular vocation to the Capuchins.
- Personal Reflection - After participating in the meal as a guest, not as a server, there is the chance to reflect on the experience of having been at the Meal Program. This experience allows people to gain a better insight into what it's like to be dependent on such programs. Sometimes guests are asked to come to talks away from St. Ben's to talk about their lives living in Milwaukee.
I'm sad to think that in less than 3 months I will be off doing something completely different. Then in the coming August, another poor soul will take my place, hoping to soon become a Capuchin, and will be asked to give a 30 minute presentation on a meal program they haven't fully understood yet. But I think that's part of the flavor of religious life. I know I will miss what I've learned here, as I start counting "days left" instead of "days here." But I know I will take what I've learned and continue to tell my story. Most of all, I know that someday I will find myself back at St. Ben's, perhaps then I will be in "full garb." And when I do return, I'll remember why I missed it in the first place.
If you live in the Milwaukee area and are looking for someone to talk to your group about the St. Ben's Community Meal, please call 414-271-0135. Ask for Br. Dave Schwab or Br. Vito Martinez. You can also see St. Ben's Website for a description of some of the programs we offer at the Community Meal.