On any given Sunday, you can walk into the kitchen of our church and see an enthusiastic red-head running a team of pancake flipping, toast buttering volunteers with more efficiency than an experienced army general could ever hope to attain. Well, you could. But I suppose that's getting ahead of myself.
You see, every Sunday our church serves a free pancake breakfast. Church starts five to ten minutes after the scheduled 9:30 a.m. But pancakes? Pancakes start at 11 o'clock on the dot. In a lower income area of a very blue-collar town, pancake breakfast is a big part of how we can serve the community around us. Church is a place for the weary and broken (Matthew 11:28-30, Luke 5:31) and we certainly are that. Some of us arrive at 9:30, still sleepy and with latte's in hand. Some of us arrive at 11, weary, with last night still present in our hearts and blood-shot eyes.
A vivacious redhead, barely over five feet tall, Maggie could bring a room to attention with the sound of her voice. When she stepped into the kitchen, it ran like a well-oiled machine. Maggie and a team of friends started pancake breakfast. Years ago, she looked around our community and saw a need. She and her team heard the voice of Jesus and saw the people around them with his eyes. When they responded, pancake breakfast was born.
I first heard about this small church that served free pancakes every week from a boy I met when we worked together with a church in Portugal. Two years later and that boy had become my husband, that church had become my home. I arrived early one morning to help with pancakes, thinking I would be the first one there. But Maggie was already in the kitchen. Setting up, boiling water, and mixing batter, she was a “Stephan” – a man in the early Christian faith who lived and died for the Lord, and served the Church in distributing food to the poor. Maggie lived that out – fully, practically, right where she was.
Anyone who has every served the poor knows that it can get messy, and we are certainly no exception. If you are looking for a neat church, where everyone arrives on time dressed in their Sunday best, we're not it. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not us, and I think there's something beautiful in the mess: in taking people right where they are, and simply sharing a meal.
This summer my husband and I worked at an out of province camp and spent four months away from home. We loved where we were but we missed our family, we missed our church. A few weeks after leaving we got the email. Maggie had cancer. Stage-four lung cancer to be precise.
The Sunday that Maggie announced to the church that she had cancer started out like any other. With her in the kitchen, leading the team and serving pancakes. As if cancer could stop her from loving the people God had given her to love.
We were shocked. We waited. We prayed. We received updates. We waited more. We prayed more. We tried not to think it. Once, we allowed ourselves to say it: What would church be like without Maggie?
We tried to brace ourselves for the reality that Maggie might not be there when we returned. But a few months later we started the long drive home from Ontario to B.C., and when we arrived back home one Sunday night, I held on to the hope that maybe, just maybe, Maggie would be at church the next week. The next night I received an email.
“Maggie is with Jesus, forever.”
Five words. After months of long emails and longer prayers, five words mixed joy and pain told us that our dear Maggie was finally able to worship her Lord and Savior face-to-face. Maggie is with Jesus, forever.
How do you grieve and celebrate as a community the life of someone who so vividly lived out her faith? It turns out, it's simple. We fling open our doors, and we make pancakes.
Maggie saw what Jesus did, and she spent her life working to do the same. If I had the chance to say one more thing to Maggie, it would be:
Maggie, Jesus was hungry, and you fed him. He was thirsty, and you gave him a drink.
He walked in as a stranger, and you welcomed him and invited him in. Everything you did for the least in our community, you did for Jesus.
And Maggie, while we wait to see you again in the presence of our Lord, we'll make pancakes.