“Egg potato casserole?” I ask. I can feel my smile lighting up my whole being while I put a generous portion onto the divided plastic foam plate.
The tired-eyed, scraggly man across the counter from me smiles back, and says, “Please.”
I remember him from last week, and the week before, from – as much as anything – his faded tattered T-shirt, which he wears wrong side out. His name is Timothy, and I know he likes his beans on his tortilla, so I don’t ask, just fix them on the plate. I remember to not even offer the oatmeal, Timothy was the guy last week who told me, “No ma’am, oatmeal takes me back to a place I don’t ever want to go again.”
I can imagine, so I don’t ask.
“God bless you,” I say, handing him his plate to finish with grated cheese and picante sauce. Further down the line, he’ll pick up a small plate and fill it to capacity with triangle sandwiches, a donut or a muffin. I expect he’ll be back in a few minutes to get grapes, a chunk of fresh banana, some apple slices and a tiny easy-peel orange from the table in the center of the room.
This is my new thing. I’m a recent transfer to and member of First United Methodist Church in downtown San Angelo, where a couple of years ago because of a genuine need, members of the congregation started a ministry to feed the hungry. Many of our regular diners live on the streets. A good number coming through the line have served their time for committing a crime, and when the wind changes, are likely to do something else and end up behind bars again. It’s harder than just saying “no” to oatmeal.
I don’t care. I care today they’re here, and hungry, and we’re here with food and kind words.
It grinds on me to use a “they” and “us” in this narrative. The truth is, we’ve all got problems. Some of us just have smaller mountains and stronger footholds.
We make a good breakfast, if I do say so myself. And actually, I don’t help with the cooking – that would require me to show up at the church kitchen at 5:30 or 6. Seven’s the best I can do, and I arrive in tennis shoes ready to stand and serve for two and a half hours before heading upstairs to Sunday school.
I’ve been a Methodist all my life, faithfully attended Sunday school and church; been inspired in worship, ministered to, shared in fellowship; been grounded in faith; and lifted in prayer. But it is passing out plates of food to the hundred or so coming through our breakfast line Sunday mornings that I find I am “strangely warmed” by the spirit of the Lord.
They are grateful. I am blessed.
But the obvious Christian charity of the mission is not shared by a number of our church members. While the breakfast serving line is a joyful, warms-the-soul place; our church council meetings are tainted with criticism and argument. There are threats from the most solid of members to leave the church if we don’t keep the unclean out.
“Oh we can raise funds to send missionaries around the world,” my friend argued at a recent meeting, “but people in our own town, hungry and in need, we can’t minister to because they might do something that offends us?”
Over a supper of bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches and a shared order of real potato fries the other night, she asked me, “Why is it we can get hung up on these obscure Bible verses and skate by the many times and numerous verses where it is written we should feed the poor, care for the sick, love one another.”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
And I don’t. But I do know, all the arguing in the world won’t change them and it can’t change me. I’m trying to accept the fact my judging them for not seeing the situation as I do is as blasphemous as their judging the hungry and downtrodden for being smelly and unclean.
Will they know we are Christians by our love? Or our hate? I’m going to caution on the side of love – armed with Luke 14:13-14.
“But when you host a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed.”
I have been, though I feel guilty and ashamed for mentioning it.

Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at ccfulton2002@yahoo.com.