“No, Eddie, I will not marry you. But thank you for asking.” So began almost every morning over a two-year period of work at Calvary Baptist Church. My proposals came from a dear man, named Eddie who lived in our Chinatown, D.C. neighborhood. He loved church, he loved playing his guitar and as it happened, he loved any new, young, female minister that moved into a ministerial position at one of the many Chinatown churches. Eddie lives with schizophrenia and has struggled with alcohol abuse for years. He also teaches me regularly about what it means to be the church for one another.
No one ever told me in seminary (famous last words) that I would be turning down marriage proposals one second and then trying to figure out the mental health social services offered by the District of Columbia the next second. In recent years, I’ve been intentional about reading more and learning more about mental health and the services our city and our churches in the area provide. I’m beyond thankful for the social worker who is in a church down the street and is always patient, kind, and knowledgeable when I send people his way for help.
As I reflect on a recent encounter with Eddie, I can’t help but think of his excitement about any event where the church doors are flung open. As we walked around the church yard sale, he picked up a guitar, telling me about how his had been smashed recently, by a neighbor. As he purchased the new guitar (a real steal for $40), he started playing it and told me that soon he’d be able to be back on the street corner playing his music and “running from the police when they try to shut me down.” I chuckled because I remembered that I’ve seen Eddie attempt to serenade someone on the corner. As we walked around the yard sale, he picked up a few more items and everything seemed to have a story attached to it. The glasses reminded him of the ones he had at home as a child growing up in Taiwan. He pointed to a painting he had donated that he created himself and said that if it didn’t sell, I could pick it up and put it in my office (It did sell). In those moments, it was just my job to listen.
As he left with his guitar to make his music on the streets of Chinatown in Washington, D.C., I thought about how Eddie just wants to be heard. He wants to be part of the community that he loves at Calvary and wants to break bread with his fellow community members. He wants to play music on the streets of Chinatown because that is his neighborhood and that’s how he brings (some) people joy. He wants to belong.
We all do.
What I’ve learned most about my work as a pastor is that I never have a typical day and that everyone is desperate searching for community. That’s what a day in the life of a minister looks like. And that’s exactly what I’m thankful for in this crazy calling. We are the fortunate ones who get proposed to, get to sit in the sacred moments and somehow people trust us with their hopes, their grief, their joys and their pain. Sometimes we even get serenaded on the streets of D.C.
Leah Grundset Davis is associate pastor for congregational life at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.