The Richness of the Poor: What I’ve Learned from People Who Have Little
This is one of several reflections about what I learned working and worshiping with people who are poor economically, during my years as Minister of Music at The United Methodist Church for All People (C4AP) in Columbus, Ohio, and now doing a music ministry at The Church of the Village. Names are changed to protect privacy.
This afternoon I’m feeling like the Queen of the World, all because I offered some music to folks at a ‘soup kitchen’.
I’ve been providing music at Daisy’s Food Pantry on Tuesdays at The Church of the Village. I sing a song, lead a sing-along, celebrate birthdays and then spin upbeat music while people wait for their number to be called. It has been a transformative experience for all of us, turning the crabbiness and conflicts that sometimes plagued that event into a joyous party where we have a good time. People nod and smile and dance and thank me. I feel like a million bucks when I’m done.
Today, I invited two of my band members to join me to entertain folks at the Community Meal that is served on Saturdays. I wasn’t sure what might happen. We played music for an hour and a half for a couple hundred people as they enjoyed a meal prepared and served by dedicated volunteers.
Being an artist anywhere, but especially in New York, can be hard. It is difficult to get gigs, and then people don’t pay you much, or anything, and require you to bring in a bunch of people to their club. It is disheartening and can sometimes make me feel unappreciated.
Today felt different. I didn’t get paid in dollars today, but boy was I paid! I cannot tell you how many people expressed their joy that we played some songs while they ate a meal. They smiled, and sang; danced and came up and thanked us. I felt such encouragement and happiness about this meager offering of talents. And, hey! It was my biggest audience EVER in New York!
This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this kind of support. In the time we served at The Church for All People, I felt more encouragement than ever before in my life. Folks who were down on their luck genuinely appreciated what I did there and let me know it every chance they could. And I wasn’t the only one. I listened to the poorest people in our community regularly boost the spirits of volunteers and staff whenever they could.
People who have the least seem to be the most likely to share what they CAN give: appreciation and support. They don’t care about little mistakes, they don’t care if I’m not the greatest singer in the world. They deeply appreciate anyone who willingly shares their gifts.
It occurred to me today that it is challenging to build an audience in New York, but I DO have an enthusiastic following of the destitute and homeless! Aren’t I lucky!?
Editor’s note: This piece was previously featured on Eileen Howard’s own blog site http://eileenhoward.blogspot.com/ and reprinted with her permission. If you’d like to get involved as a contributor for COTV’s People of the Village blog, please feel free to contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.