Thanksgiving with The Union Gospel Mission Seattle; Social Innovation & Swing

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Thanksgiving with The Union Gospel Mission Seattle; Social Innovation & Swing

Photo’s courtesy of Denise Knapp

Ever found yourself in a transcendent moment of rhythm, harmony and melody? The convergence of swing?

Ever had minutes turn to hours?

Ever been in the ‘zone’ lost in the activity of the moment?

That’s the feeling I had this Thanksgiving when I opted out of being served for a day of giving.

For years I’ve wanted to volunteer with the Union Gospel Mission on Thanksgiving Day. And conveniently, every year I’ve found reasons I could not.

Not this year. I had no excuses, in part due to the fact my 20 year old daughter is in Africa studying abroad and in part due to my sisters and cousins all opting to go their separate ways this Thanksgiving.

So I made the call, committed myself to helping out the team at Capital Hill Presbyterian Church.

“Pam looks like she’s had some diner experience in her past” One of the volunteers teased as I greeted a newcomer from across the room.

Smiling I responded. “No diner experience, just born with one of those annoying ‘diner personalities’.”

Within moments of my arrival at Capital Hill Presbyterian Church I felt at home. Kim Hamilton, the leader of us volunteers was petite in size and mighty in organization and empowerment.

Minutes after our arrival, Kim had all 20+ volunteers in action. Ego’s, titles, labels and positions were left at the door. Everyone accepted the mantle of servant. Some worked security others manned the dishwasher, some plated and delivered food, others served coffee and pie, some sat at the tables and conversed with our guests others cleaned.

The Mission delivered the meal of turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes, gravy, green beans and pies. We took over from there… Donning our latex blue gloves we set out to wow our guests.

And lo and behold at 2:30 the first guests began to arrive. By the end of the evening we’d served 60-100 dinners.

Whether it was pouring cofffee, serving a piece of pie, clearing a plate, engaging in conversation, sharing a handshake or a smile, preparing ‘to go bags’ each volunteer stepped up.

Reaching out I grabbed the young man’s hand, “I’m Pam and you are?”

“Jason,” he smiled.



“Grab a seat, do you like coffee?”

“This is Seattle.” He teased.

Some guests arrived quietly, others nervously. Some smiled, others looked at their feet the entire evening. Some slept on the tables. Others walked in and out of the building. Some knew each other. Some laughed. Many were tired, others on the verge of tears.

But each person that arrived carried their own message. Each of them spoke to us in some way, shape or fashion. Each life touched me; Jason, Sergio, Rhianna, Roosevelt, Bucky…and the rest they came and they gave.

“This is the best Thanksgiving I’ve had in years.” Said the young man as I sat down next to him.

“Really?” I said as I leaned in closer.

“Most of us don’t have any place to go, we don’t have family…” his voice trailed off.

Swallowing I nodded.

Excusing myself to greet a newcomer, I wiped my eyes before any leakage occurred.

“Come on in, take a seat and we’ll grab you a plate!” I announced as I thrust my hand toward the slight, grandfather.

Back in the kitchen I leaned against the cupboard.

Closing my eyes, I exhaled.

Love was seeping. Every breath. Every pore was love filled. I didn’t expect it. But I couldn’t deny it. The entire room was full of love. I was love soaked. And I mean; heart drenched, spirit filled, soul fed- love soaked.

Their faces, their lives. I could feel them, each of them as they walked through the door. Another miracle. A life. A life with all sorts of challenges. But a life.

A life as valuable as mine.

A life as miraculous as my friends.

A life as precious as my own children’s.

I looked around. All of the volunteers seemed to be caught up in ‘the swing,’ lost in the harmony, the convergence of serving and giving.

Funny. I’d come to give, to serve and here I was receiving. Just like God to blow my love-o-meter a way in such a homely place as the bottom of an ole church, with mismatched plastic tablecloths, linoleum and enough mash potatoes for a small army.

“This is what the Church is meant to be.” I said to my new friend as he played security cop, incognito in the back of the room.

“Yeah” he smiled.

“This is relevant. This is the Church being relevant. If the Church can’t be relevant than it should just die. Because if Jesus were here – he’d be feeding the poor and taking care of the sick. Holding hands inside the church playing ‘let’s have a group meeting’ is not the mission of the church. Loving people where they are. Being the hands and feet of service, witnessing to the light of the world is.”

“Do I need to get you a microphone?” he smiled.

I’ve said it before. I don’t do religion. And neither did Jesus. I don’t buy into the church as a social club. You got love? Prove it. Be it.

I’m into social innovation. I want to see authentic, relevant faith. If the church wants to be relevant then it must cry with those who are crying, it must celebrate with those who are celebrating and it must serve the needs of it’s community. Otherwise it’s not love, no-way, no-how.

I loved experiencing the beginning of a partnership between the Union Gospel Mission and Capital Hill Presbyterian Church. I can’t help but wonder what might happen if all Churches and non-profits were to join hands. If they were to come together to create a eco-system and invite the most abundant for-profit companies to participate with them to create sustainable methods to solve the needs in their communities.

We need to tear down walls.

We need to think outside the box.

We need to architect new ways of being relevant socially.

We don’t have to duplicate, we can partner and join together to synergistically transform how things are being done socially and yes, I believe the Church should be leading the charge. Because the Church is love unleashed

Church partnerships with ventures; for profit and non-profit provides a model for sustainable social change.

You want a real growth group? Serve. Who know’s what would be possible if Churches invested the resources and time they do to their own Christmas pageants, children’s programs and annual fundraisers to their communities.

As I drove home Thanksgiving night I couldn’t stop thinking about all the men and women I’d met. The conversations, the handshakes and the laughter. The scripture, “To whom much has been given, much is expected” came to mind. And then I thought about Peter telling the Lord how much he loved him and Jesus replying, “feed my sheep.”

I thought about all the companies in Seattle that are financially abundant. And I thought about what it would take to involve them in partnerships with social innovators like Union Gospel Mission Seattle.

I ruminated over what it would take to makes sure no one in our community, state went hungry. And then I pictured companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing donating jackets, boots, hats, gloves and grocery cards.

And then I fantasied about how these one time events; Thanksgiving Dinners, could turn into sustainable community based outreaches and partnerships with the Union Gospel Mission, manned by local neighborhood churches and community groups.

And then I remembered, ” all evil needs is for ‘good’ to stay home”… And then I realized I’d been staying home.

And then I couldn’t contain those tears any longer. And my eyes leaked all the way home.

I want to be the change I want to see in the world. I want to live a life of ‘swing’ giving and receiving. Together we can make a difference.

Thank you Capital Hill Presbyterian Church for being a beacon, for partnering with world changing Union Gospel Mission. And thank you Kim for inviting me to be a part of your Thanksgiving dinner this year. I will forever be grateful for the ThanksGIVING I finally started giving…

Pam Hoelzle

Learn more about me here

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