Speaking to the Soul: Waiting Tables

Feast of Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 28, 30 (morning) // 118 (evening)

Chronicles 24:17-22

Acts 6:1-7

People often say that everyone should spend some time in their lives waiting tables. The idea is that waiting tables gives everyone the experience of serving others–sometimes tirelessly and thanklessly–so that we will be patient and generous with anyone who happens to serve us. Usually, the encouragement to wait tables assumes a career trajectory that will take us from serving to being served.

In today’s second reading, it seems like the twelve leading disciples are also leaving table service and moving up in the newly-formed church hierarchy. In this episode in the evolution of the institutional church, the early Christians decide to divide the ministry of prayer and preaching from the ministry of distributing food. The twelve leading disciples declare, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.” They decide to ordain seven other people specifically for the task of waiting tales.

One of those people was Saint Stephen, whose life we celebrate today, and who is often remembered as the first Christian martyr. But our Daily Office reading emphasizes this other dimension of his ministry: the distribution of food to members of his community who were in need. Today, we recognize his ordination and form of ministry as that of a deacon.

We can honor Stephen’s deeply self-giving life by choosing to wait on tables, just as he did. When the church’s other leaders got too busy to give food to those in need, Stephen chose to devote his life to serving those who were missing out on the distribution of resources. As the passage says, some members of the community had complained because “widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.” Stephen was there to make sure that those widows got their share.

We all have our various specialties as ministers in Christ’s church. But, at one point or another, we should all wait tables, whether in restaurants, home kitchens, or community meals for the hungry. It’s the most basic task of early Christian disciples. And it will prepare us, as it did Stephen, to give our lives instantly and graciously when they are needed most. 

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal.  She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps  program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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