A few months ago I took over the "meal ministry" at our church. This is a system whereby the church can offer meals and other practical support to people in need: births, sickness, bereavement. It's pretty simple and it works pretty well: I am advised of a need, and I call on women in the church to supply meals. Sometimes there are other needs: housecleaning, errand-running, companionship. But mostly, it's food. Housecleaning can be put off, but everyone needs to eat, every day.
Right now I'm working with a woman who has had surgery and is laid up at home. She is a single lady, with little family around. She is alone most of the day, except for visits from neighbors and coworkers, and the "church ladies" who are bringing meals to her. So we asked our volunteers to try to deliver meals at a time convenient for them to stick around a while and chat with this woman. Because she's home alone, and she's lonely, and we are her sisters.
Many of the women in our church work; there aren't too many stay at home moms or homemakers. This is presenting a real problem for our meal ministry: people just don't have time to get involved with it. My pool of volunteers is shrinking - and I've only been doing this a few months. It was the same way in the past, at other churches, so it's not just the current economy.
I don't have any memories of my mother taking food to someone who was sick. Maybe she did; I just don't remember. But I've read enough to know that a community, or a church, coming together to help someone in need was once common. Now that most women are working outside their homes, there are few people to do perform this sort of service. This is a bad thing for our culture.
Now I know that some people see housewives as a drain on society. There is a high value placed on earning a paycheck. But once everyone is out of the house earning a paycheck, there is no one free to be of service to others. You could argue that families should do this, and you are right. But not everyone has family around (or the family is dysfunctional and unable to help). Churches often pick up where the family left off. But our resources are limited because the women are contributing to society by working. How exactly are they contributing to society just by working? I guess by paying income taxes.
But that doesn't help the lonely new mom who needs someone to come over and hang out while she's learning how to take care of her baby. It doesn't help someone like my friend, who would just like some companionship for an hour or so along with her meal. It doesn't help the new widower who can't walk through his house without bumping into memories, and would like someone to share them with.
Sometimes people have great ideas on how to make this work better. Efficiency! Someone suggested to me that they take a large pan of lasagna, so it could last this lady 3 or 4 days. Imagine that - popping in to leave a giant lasagne for a single woman and expecting her to eat it for the next 3 days while everyone else goes about their lives. How many days in a row do you want to eat lasagne, alone in your apartment with your tv?
What was that deal about loving our neighbor as ourselves?
This is one of the ways our culture is dying. Few people have time to help others in this casual way. Our new President wants us to participate in community service, but I don't think this is the kind of thing he's thinking of. This is personal. This is about one person helping another, without the benefit of a government grant, or a community organizer getting in the way. It's loving our neighbor and helping him out when he needs it, in the way he needs it.
Now excuse me while I go make some chicken rice soup.