By: Hal Ward
My wife and I started volunteering at Broad Street Ministry (BSM) a few years ago. The first time I volunteered, I saw a big green sign on the wall that says “Radical Hospitality Practiced Here”. What is “Radical Hospitality”? This is what I have learned.
When I first volunteered at BSM, I assumed that they were focused on serving meals to people experiencing homelessness. While that is part of what they do, I heard a staff member say “it’s not about what you think it’s about”. What he meant was the meals that are offered at BSM are a way of welcoming vulnerable people through the doors of Broad Street Ministry. Once they are there, they learn that BSM offers a variety of vitally important social services to this community.
The list of social services can be found here and includes personal care items, a clothing closet and mending services, and therapeutic arts. Partner services include case management, medical services, psychiatric and behavioral services, dental services, HIV testing and counseling, and benefits counseling.
One of the most interesting services (to me) is the BSM mail service. Pretend for a minute that you are homeless. Pretend that you are about to complete a job application, a benefits application, or request a service. After you enter your name on the form, what is ALWAYS the next piece of information that is requested? Your address, of course. You cannot complete any type of form in our society without providing a mailing address. What do you use as your address if you are homeless?
BSM provides a mailing address for the people they serve. They now provide a mailing address and mail service to over 3,000 people in their area. That is a remarkable feat. It means that not only do they provide a mailing address, but they also provide the support to receive and distribute mail to all 3,000 of those people.
That is radical hospitality.
The first time I served a meal at BSM, I was touched by the contrast with other places where I have served or distributed meals. When I walked into the dining area, there was music playing (Frank Sinatra, on my first day). There were decorations at every table. Each table was arranged “in the round”, so that guests had the opportunity to socialize.
Note that I just used the word “guests”. Broad Street Ministry taught me that. The people who come to dine at BSM are guests. At BSM, every guest is welcomed with open arms. They are encouraged to dine, to celebrate and socialize with friends, to take advantage of the available social services, and to break bread in a beautiful setting.
Do you know what radical hospitality looks like? How about having an Executive Chef, a Sous Chef, and two cooks to prepare meals for the guests?
The food that they prepare is delicious, nutritious, and expertly plated. The food is as good as any restaurant that I frequent in my community. I mean that. I am honored to serve the dishes that they create, every time that I have the opportunity to do so.
There is an inscription on the Statue of Liberty that describes radical hospitality:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me,
I lift my lamp besides the golden door”.
Radical hospitality means lifting our lamp to vulnerable residents of Philadelphia, and welcoming them. That is what Broad Street Ministry does every day. They open their doors to the vulnerable community and make them feel welcome.
Every time I volunteer at BSM, I am awakened spiritually, and feel better about the world for several days. I tell my friends “you might be surprised who is helped the most”. It might be me.
Hal Ward wrote a book called “Can Openers”. It’s available at Amazon.com. He is donating all of the proceeds to Philadelphia-area charities, including BSM!
For a chance to meet Hal and get a signed copy of his book, check out our upcoming event at Plays and Players here!
You can also check out Hal’s blog here.