It isn’t an easy year to do service. Because of social distancing requirements, guests aren’t allowed to come into the St. Francis Inn as they used to, where we would serve them meals, restaurant style; instead, we’ve been giving them bagged meals to-go. When I’m at the bag window, most conversations are limited as I hand out one bag to a guest, then the next. Regretfully, you have to tell a guest who does try to chat you up that they have to step aside, as others are behind them.

But there are always ways of connecting with others, even small ones. What I’ve tried to do is learn the names of many of the guests who come to the inn frequently; when I’m at the bag window, I end up seeing many of the same faces (or the top half of faces anyway). This is the most important thing I feel in finding a way of reaching those we serve. It may not seem like much but it goes a long way toward making the Inn feel like– well, an inn. A place that’s welcoming and hospitable, even if you only pass through it briefly. 

Just as I’ve tried to learn the names of many of our guests, some of them have made an effort to remember mine. Amusingly, when I’ve told a few different guests that my name is Liam, they’ve all said, “Oh, like Liam Neeson?” One woman even told me she had a son named Liam. I definitely appreciate it when others get my name down and make sure to address me by it. 

It may seem like a small thing– but it’s essential in connecting with others. This way, our service becomes personal– and the simple act of handing out bags can be a way of reaching out to those you serve– or ministering to them.

Names are important. If you can learn the names of those you serve, you can reach them at a human level and truly connect with them, making them feel welcome despite the limitations.

Liam O’Toole, FVM Philadelphia 2020-2021