st benedict’s table: He’s lived pretty rough

for those of us who had the chance to work alongside of him in the kitchen, Bryon upended some of our assumptions about who gives and who receives.

This past November a group of some eighty people from All Saints’ Church gathered in the parish hall to enjoy a very fine parish dinner. Called “Feel the Heat” and featuring dishes from a range of cultures—Pakistani, Sudanese, First Nations, Caribbean, and British—proceeds from the meal were designated to the church furnace replacement fund. The congregation of saint benedict’s table offered to get on board by assembling a team of servers and dishwashers, allowing most of the All Saints parishioners to simply enjoy the event.

I think Chris Whitmore said it best. Helping to plate meals in the kitchen, over the course of the evening he’d been bumping elbows and sharing snippets of conversation with one of the saint benedict’s table volunteers. “Church people usually assume that we’re the ones who serve those less fortunate than ourselves,” Chris said. “But tonight while most of us have been enjoying our meal, Bryon has been serving us.”

As Bryon tells the story, a few years ago in a state of desperation, he called out to God, asking to be freed from his addictions. “And just like that, the cravings were gone. Praise the Lord.”

While Bryon is very much a part of our saint benedict’s table congregation, his life has been quite unlike that of the average church member. He’s lived pretty rough, and for years the driving forces in his life were a thirst for more alcohol and a desire to use any drug that would numb him out; body, mind, and soul. As he tells the story, a few years ago in a state of desperation, he called out to God, asking to be freed from his addictions. “And just like that, the cravings were gone. Praise the Lord.” That’s one of Bryon’s favorite phrases—“Praise the Lord”—and when he says it you always have a sense that he really means it. Really, really means it.

That’s one of Bryon’s favorite phrases—“Praise the Lord”—and when he says it you always have a sense that he really means it. Really, really means it.

It isn’t as if his life suddenly got easy. One of the reasons he was so capable at washing the dishes at the church supper is that for several years he was a regular at Agape Table, and in that context had helped with the dishes in that kitchen any number of times. He occasionally finds his way back to Agape Table, for while he now receives Old Age Security, his finances are still very tight. And he currently lives in a hotel that rents rooms by the week. “It’s pretty good,” he said to me. “Its safe, and there’s a bathroom right down the hall. The owner is a nice guy, and lets me use the hotel laundry room to wash my clothes.” He’s hoping to find a better place come spring, but safe, affordable housing for a single man in his mid-60s is not easy to come by.

Yet Bryon doesn’t often complain. He’s clean and sober—“Praise the Lord”—and has somewhere safe to hang his hat. He’s always game to lend a hand, and so was only too happy to do his part in the furnace fund-raising initiative. Besides, the evening gave him a chance to share a table with a few friends—both old and new—and to enjoy a great meal quite unlike what he’d normally have. (A note to Edmund Laldin: he did find your soup a little on the spicy side, but quite delicious all the same!)

And for those of us who had the chance to work alongside of him in the kitchen, Bryon upended some of our assumptions about who gives and who receives. For some of us, that was the highlight of the whole evening.

By Jamie Howison