I lived in the East and West Village of New York City for many years. I loved my time there. Neighborhoods and community existed then before gentrification. One would expect the opposite in such a large city. I knew the names of the Italian baker, the Polish butcher, the Korean man who sold produce, and the Russian woman who provided flowers and plants to the neighborhood. Arnie at the record shop, Maria and Bob at the Grassroots Tavern. I frequented a diner on West 4th Street and 6th Avenue. The best breakfast around. The best late-night meal after a visit to the Grassroots!
The diner felt easy and comfortable. Like a pair of velvet pants. I never had to place my order. I was seated and my meal would appear. The same waiter every time who took the time to remember me and my preferences. It is in places like this that when you walk in you are sure to be greeted by people who know you and your name. You would never leave without the latest news of the neighborhood. You felt connected, cared for, and present.
You might be surprised to learn that we have a West 4th Street diner on our campus. A place where the ladies always greet you with affection. A place where the conversation is good. A welcoming place with first rate hospitality. Of course I'm talking about our Thrift Store.
Reliably, many volunteers from our Congregation staff the store, giving their time and care. I usually make my way to Thrift Store at least weekly. Not necessarily to make a purchase, although I've left a few times with treasures. I stop by because I love the welcome, the conversation, and to pay homage to the volunteers. I can count on leaving with book recommendations, movie reviews, a tour of new merchandise, recipes, and the "word on the street", which as your minister I am the last to be in the know! Greater than these I leave touched by the stories of the volunteers and their lives. I leave having the opportunity to tell my story. I even left once with fruit mole.
Just as the diner I've described, the Thrift Store acts as one of the centers of our Congregation and our community. Volunteers have made connections with customers outside of our Congregation. These people return again and again because they are not only thrifty, they recognize genuine connectedness that they rarely find elsewhere. The Thrift Store raises a large amount of money each year which supports the Congregation. The volunteers also generously choose to make a donation to a local charity on behalf of the Congregation.
The Thrift Store is not only a great place to shop. It connects us to one another. It connects us to our community. It helps us see beyond ourselves and reaches out with hands of comfort, grace, and hospitality. If you would like to see our values in practice you needn't go far. Cross the parking lot and prepare yourself for generosity, story telling, and a great deal on the occasional arrival of a faux fur vest or flamingo dinnerware. You will leave in a better place than you arrived. Let us be grateful for the volunteers who gladly take on the awesome responsibility of coordinating and managing this effort on our behalf and to our benefit.