By Henrietta Cullinan
Every other Sunday, Catholic Worker volunteers take part in Urban Table, a weekly sit down meal for 80-odd homeless and des- titute men and women in Hackney. No one is ever turned away.
But Covid-19 has turned every- one away. Under lockdown rules, only two people are allowed in the kitchen, only four in the vast hall, where we now pack 160 takeaway meals. Local volunteers take the meals, by bike or shopping trolley, to names and addresses on a spreadsheet. Instead of a queue of eccentric characters, grumbling slightly, each with their special likes and dislikes, there’s a trusty Whatsapp group of mutual aid re- sponders, Google maps at the ready.
What’s happened to the sharing with ‘the least of these’? Where is the ‘Christ of the bread lines’?, the famous Fritz Eichenberg etching, when the lines are on a spread sheet? Our friends are now invisi- ble. Although not quite. When out shopping I do spot some of our regulars, meeting up with fellow streetmates, or returning to their usual begging spot.
After clearing up the kitchen and the packing stations, we gather for a debrief and a short prayer. This week, we sat two me- tres apart, shouting to be heard above the coming and going of de- liveries and requests for help. The reading for the day, the first Sunday after Easter, from Acts 2, describes the disciples’ new way of life. ‘Awe came upon everyone’ and later, ‘they ate their meals with exulta- tion and sincerity of heart’. At this we literally put our hands over our hearts too; we look forward to a time when we can eat together again.
But I remembered, later in the week, that this moment, our small check-in, was the only time I have been able to pray with a group of people, gathered together in one room, since the lockdown began. We sat together and said the Lord’s prayer and listened to words of scripture.
Even though the usual 80 guests were not there, their absence was more powerful than the act of sending out the food itself. And I can still find them in the street if I look.
So, confusingly, Christ-like, they were there but not there.
Instead, I have been given a prayer of absence, of waiting for the Lord, and I find myself, with the disciples, ‘in awe’.
Henrietta Cullinan is a member of the London Catholic Worker. To donate or volunteer visit www.londoncatholicworker.org
Connecting at the time of lockdown
By Henrietta Cullinan