There is a nice breeze that gently blows through the downstairs window at the Diocesan Offices, but there is also a pillar made of jagged and pock-marked cinder blocks, symbols that I find best describe my work. I am the downstairs receptionist for the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego’s Offices and the front line for anyone interacting with our office.
My primary responsibility is to help field calls and help people reach the person they need, but a large portion of my work is with the people we serve on the street. I expected the business calls; what I did not expect were the calls from people in “particular” hotel rooms, or from the streets, or in RVs somewhere, asking if the diocese can spare three hundred dollars. “Just this one time! You’re a church, right? I’ll pay you back next week when I get paid…” I know these calls are scams, but they are impossible to ignore. Like the pock-marked pillar outside my window, they shattered my once-held idealist views about working at the diocese. (As if the Diocesan Offices were an ivory tower). I now know that the Diocesan Offices are as much a part of the Church, serving in the mud and muck that is a piece of all our lives, as any other congregation in the diocese.
But there are other calls too. Calls that are urgent and often times frantic–people searching for loved ones who had suddenly disappeared who they believed had unraveled through drugs.
One man called looking for his son. He then shared with me his anxiety and deep worry. His son had run away from home and had not been seen or heard from in months. The voice was desperate. I remember imagining the pain this man was feeling. I also felt powerless listening to someone in pain and unable to help. All I could do was listen, to feel with them, to pray for them.
Then there are many untold stories that break my heart when hearing them directly.
Leticia is a homeless woman who sometimes comes to the Diocesan Offices to use the phone. When she calls her parents, it sounds like another person. She sounds like a little girl. Leticia is in her mid-fifties!
Many times, while I sit nearby, I hear this ‘little girl’ begging her mother to come pick her up so she can get a shower and some food. But this little girl, in her fifties, lives a fair distance away from her parents. When she hangs up, a long silence ensues.
From my window, I often see the marks that living outdoors can leave. Working with the homeless at the diocese has opened my eyes to the violence I do not personally know but that I see in the people I serve. I see it in the way women physically distance themselves from the men. I know now that they likely hold a trauma-informed hurt from other men on the street. When I see this, it makes my heart sink.
But there is hope.
People will surprise you with their buoyancy and resilience. The other day an older woman named Nancy came to the diocese to use the phone, and she was beaming. She had been living on the streets but had recently moved into a home. She was beaming. Through her smile, she told me how grateful she was that the diocese reached out to people in her situation before diving into how different having a home is from living on the streets. It put her in a completely different space inside and out. It was like her body and soul reconciled. She thanked me for using the phone and looked me right in the eye. It was the sincerest expression of gratitude I’ve felt in a long time. Now I was beaming.
Through my job as a receptionist at the diocese, I see the spark, the light in the unsheltered. I see it in their eyes and their heart. Being a receptionist for the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego’s office allows me to witness the work of Jesus Christ in people. For me, it’s a hopeful and powerful reminder of Christ’s unending love for us all.
The breeze from my window is nice, but I love the roughness of my pillar too.
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