Taking on a new job, at a new organizations, with new people, in a new city is expectedly overwhelming. My first two weeks starting at Broad Street Ministry (BSM) has been intense. BSM serves seven meals a week, receives mail for 3,200 people, provides free clothing and personal care items, HIV/AIDS testing, mental health screening, and so many other vital services. Needless to say learning how all these services work was a lot. On top of that learning everyone’s name and what our dynamics will be was just another layer to the challenge.
BSM practices “radical hospitality” for all their guest and learning what this really means has been the biggest challenge. What sets BSM apart from many other churches and non-profits is that they try their best to provide a space that will support anyone who enters the doors. There are many ways that BSM welcomes their guests such as serving the guests food as if they were in a restaurant or building personal relationships with each guest. The staff have done so much good work building a community.
My supervisor has put me in every department as a volunteer to expose me to all the work that they do. At this point I could probably do any job they could ask me, which feels pretty good to know that I’m becoming more competent. On of the harder aspects of each of these jobs is to exemplify the “radical hospitality” that BSM believes in. This includes showing respect and being polite, but also means that one should get to know each of the guests, again building community. This last part was and still is the hardest part to learn. I’m always pushing myself to go talk to someone and listen to a bit of their life story, or whatever’s on their mind. However, I may have been overzealous in my attempts to build community.
One day, I got talking to one of the guest who was very well know by the staff. At first we exchanged some small talk. After asking about my family, the guest launched into a life story about how she ran away from home then how her family would not forgive her and finally how bleak the future is. For my first experience really having real conversation with a guest, I was really at a loss of what to say. I could only manage to come up with it’ll be ok… Throughout the week I said ‘hello’ whenever we met.
Fast forward a couple days later, I’m going out for my lunch break looking for something to eat. Lo and behold, that same guest was standing around on a corner. I went to say hello as I usually would, but before I could really think about it, I offered lunch.
What an Idiot.
Not only am I breaking professionalism, but now I’m showing favoritism, as well as other guests might start coming to me to buy lunch for them. And since I offered, I couldn’t back out. So I went and bought two chicken sandwiches for the both of us from Federal Donuts, which was delicious. Then I admitted my mistake to my supervisor.
Trying to be hospitable as a staff member had seeped into my regular life and broke the balance between friendliness and professionalism. I’ve learned that although being generous is important to make guest welcome, there must be rules to prevent undermining the organization from a relational level. Hopefully this doesn’t bite me in the butt down the line.