Resurrection Lutheran Church, which provides a weekly food pantry, is seen here in April. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Resurrection Lutheran Church, which provides a weekly food pantry, is seen here in April. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Living and Growing: Learning to ‘see’ people as well as serving them

I was a transactional Lutheran. I attended church regularly. I volunteered for anything and everything. I believed that this was my duty as a Christian. I “did,” but I did not “see.” When our church was asked to operate the Cold Weather Emergency Shelter, I was president of the congregation and scared beyond words. I asked (no, more like, begged) how are we going to do this? Please help me to understand. Pastor Karen Perkins, Brad Perkins (the shelter manager) and the shelter staff showed me, in both word and deed, how to “do this.” And my life will never be the same.

On Monday, June 26, 70 people came through the line at the RLC Food Pantry, taking food to feed 205 — those in their households, their extended families, their neighbors. Nine of these people walking through the door had come in for the first time. When you have always had enough to eat it is impossible to understand how uncomfortable it feels to walk through the door and receive. It takes courage. Often those who come for the first time, and sometimes those who come more frequently, feel the need to explain why they need food at this time. Many will offer to help or volunteer, wanting to offer service in exchange. You may have heard yourself think, or even say, “I would rather die than accept free food.” The people in the food pantry line have probably thought it too. But the people with the fortitude to come Monday were, on average, responsible for almost three people. Perhaps my druthers would be less important if I were making that trip for two others.

Unfortunately, it is easy for many in my faith tradition to treat God’s grace with the same sense of transaction. God loves me freely and abundantly because that is God’s nature. I sure feel a lot better, though, if I am giving back something in exchange. I can worship. I can volunteer. I can give financially. I can explain to God why I need a little extra attention right now. I have always paid my way and expect I always will. I like that system because I understand it and can measure it. I know if I am being a good Lutheran. But that is not how God has treated me. God says we can’t pay our own way. It isn’t a trade. I absolutely must receive.

Recently, I started learning about blended service, where it isn’t clear who is serving whom. I realized that, in many ways, working at our food pantry, or sheltering people experiencing homelessness, is blended service. The people who come model the type of faith I thought I understood just fine. They do something I am not sure that I could. They come without paying. But they do share. They share their stories with me. They share their angers and frustrations and joys. They share their names and faces and truths. The people who are theoretically receiving have changed me. By letting me know them, they took their circumstances personally. Jesus teaches about this type of connection, but I didn’t understand how profoundly he meant it. Now, it is a privilege to serve rather than just a responsibility.

Karen Lawfer, congregation president at Resurrection Lutheran Church.

Karen Lawfer, congregation president at Resurrection Lutheran Church.

Before, the people that I encountered in the margins were invisible. I would hand out food or talk to them and never see them. I valued the “doing” above the “being.” I was sufficiently “productive.” That is how I did church, even though it wasn’t what was taught in decades of studies and sermons. I did my duty, served the people and checked it off my list. That is not the case now. I have been transformed. I see the people. And care about them. And once seen, they can’t be unseen. They matter. All have a face and a name AND they are children of God.

• Karen Lawfer wrote this in conjunction with Rev. Karen Perkins. Rev. Perkins is the pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church. Ms. Lawfer is the congregation president.

The Rev. Karen Perkins, pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church.

The Rev. Karen Perkins, pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church.

More in Neighbors

Toys collected during the annual Captain’s Toy Drive. (Photo courtesy of the Juneau Charter Boat Operators Association)
Neighbors briefs

140 new toys and fishing rods collected for annual Captain’s Toy Drive… Continue reading

Laura Rorem, a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church. (Courtesy of Laura Rorem)
Living and Growing: Faithful aging

“GOD put me on Earth to accomplish a certain number of things.… Continue reading

A still frame from a production of Tlingit “Macbeth” at the National Museum of the American Indian in 2007. (Photo provided by Sealaska Heritage Institute)
Neighbors: SHI to sponsor its first-ever juried film festival

Event to be held during Celebration 2024

The Dakhká Khwáan Dancers, who were named lead dance group for Celebration 2024. (Photo by Nobu Koch courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute)
Neighbors: SHI launches contest for Celebration 2024 art design

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is holding a contest to solicit a design… Continue reading

Stacks of dog and cat food sit on pallets after being donated during a previous Holiday Cat and Dog Food Drive hosted by the Grateful Dogs of Juneau. (Courtesy Photo / George Utermohle)
Neighbors briefs

14th annual Holiday Cat and Dog Food Drive starts Dec. 4 From… Continue reading

A large foamy heart in a Juneau creek formed by decaying organic matter (dead leaves and twigs) at the Twin Lakes area Nov. 27. (Photo by Denise Carroll)
Art in Unusual Places

The Juneau Empire welcomes reader-submitted photos of art in unusual or unexpected… Continue reading

The author getting ready to host a holiday dinner for her family in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Patty Schied)
Cooking For Pleasure: Stuffed with turkey sandwiches? Try stuffing turkey enchiladas

Now that you have eaten all the turkey sandwiches you want, all… Continue reading

Page Bridges of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Juneau. (Photo courtesy of Page Bridges)
Living and Growing: Heartbreak Hill

Trying to write about beauty and our need for it is hard.… Continue reading

A public notice about one of several Thanksgiving proclamations President Abraham Lincoln issued during the Civil War. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum)
Living and Growing: Give thanks with a grateful heart

Happy Thanksgiving! Once again we celebrate what is a distinctively American holiday,… Continue reading

A female bear with her cubs: bears have direct-development life cycles, looking like bears from the time they are born. (Photo by Jos Bakker)
On the Trails: Animal life cycles

There are two basic life-cycle patterns among animals. Many animals have complex… Continue reading

(Jessica Spengler/CC BY 2.0 DEED)
Cooking For Pleasure: No trauma pie crust (that actually tastes good)

The secret is keeping all of the ingredients very cold.

Maj. Gina Halverson is co-leader of The Salvation Army Juneau Corps. (Robert DeBerry/The Salvation Army)
Living and Growing: Be thankful for the opportunity to care for ‘Others’

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, we are reminded of the importance of being… Continue reading