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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12 replies to “Why I Serve: Light Through a Diocesan Window”
I love this article so much. We all have opportunity to use our gifts and talents , to be the hands and feet of Christ. Thank you for sharing your insight on how you recognize that truth.
Great to see you in a place like this Daniel. Nicely written piece.
What a wonderful piece of writing. This position breaks and soothes your heart all at the same time. Daniel, you have a unique and God filled ministry. So glad you are there to pray with and offer God’s love to so many.
What an encouraging and uplifting commentary. It goes to show that we can all have the opportunity to do the Lord’s work.
As I write this, I am grieving the loss of a friend I worked with for many years at NBC. He died Sunday of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. This came as a complete surprise to me and many others I have heard from today. He was the not at all the kind of person who I, or any of his other friends, would suspect to take his own life. He was an outgoing person with a very successful career and a good income. I’ve been sitting in my office all day remember all the interactions we had working together.
I don’t know how you and Brooks, along with many other who do similar work, cope with all the grief you encounter daily.
Keep doing the good work.
I love, love, love this piece. God’s work gets done in many ways. Thanks for doing it, Daniel.
I enjoyed your sharing of your job
experience , thanks from Vanessa
There is no higher calling than listening and trying to assist those less fortunate than ourselves. I thank you for caring. I also thank you for all you have done for my brother, Harold, who is certainly not the easiest to deal with. Bless you and the others in the congregation.
What a lovely integration of the rough and the smooth that can be so inspirational for the rest of us dealing with these contradictions on a daily basis.
God bless you for all of the good work that you do!
Daniel, I worked for decades as a receptionist. I found the work rewarding & fulfilling, but it was discouraging how many supervisors & colleagues
regarded the job as unimportant & inconsequential.I was”just the receptionist”. You are entirely accurate: receptionist is the “frontline”. Thank you for integrity & patience. You are the “Frontline Line for Christ!” God bless you, Dan!
Dear Dan, I was really moved by your article – thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, insights and feelings!
I convene the Diocesan Service & Justice Coalition which meets bi-monthly by Zoom on Saturdays from 9:30-11:30 am. Saturday, I’m sure, is your day off. But I wondered if you might want to join us for our next meeting which will be Saturday, March 18 – if even for just 5 minutes – to share with us what you do at ECC and what services are offered to whom. If you can’t join us that day, I could share this article or something else you could submit to me to share. I would like permission to add your email to my list of people from many congregations who receive notices of the Diocesan Service & Justice Coalition.
parishioner at St. David’s
Daniel, you are definitely a breath of fresh air coming in the window of the Diocesan Offices and you greet people with compassion. Thanks be to God for your ministry