By Daniel Ogle
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (March 28, 2018) -- One by one they walked in, and with one exception, their response was the same.
“Laundry is free today,” we told them.
“Seriously?” they responded with a smile.
For the last several weeks at Colonial Heights United Methodist Church, we’ve been wrestling with the question Jesus invites us to consider in light of the Parable of the Good Samaritan: Just what does it mean to be a neighbor who our neighbors might call good?
There is no other way to describe Wash Me Coin Laundry, which is located at 6316 Chapman Highway in South Knoxville, than as our neighbor. It is located right across the street from the front door of our church.
Each time someone comes to our church, they pass this laundromat. They pass it when they come for worship on Sunday morning or spiritual formation groups on Sunday night. They glimpse its sign on their way to The Open Table on Thursday nights or as they drop their kids off at Mothers’ Day Out on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
As we thought about neighboring, the laundromat across the street was a natural starting point. And so, on Sunday morning we prayed a prayer of commissioning at the end of our worship service before leaving to bless our neighbors across the street by doing something simple.
We paid for laundry.
For three hours on Sunday afternoon, laundry was free. No marketing plan. No strategic planning session. We just showed up with bags of quarters and a table full of food.
We blessed a mother whose laundry room had flooded, spoiling all her family’s clothes. We connected with a UT student who was doing laundry before he headed out of town for his first job.
We listened to the grief of a young woman whose parents have been so sick she has barely had time to keep her head above water, much less find time to wash her clothes. We met a basketball coach at one of the local high schools and even connected with a single dad who just moved into the area and is looking for a church for himself and his family.
As we sat with people and listened, we discovered the gift that God had given us. Driving across Chapman Highway into another parking lot enabled us to connect with people we wouldn’t have otherwise met.
By showing up and offering something without expectation, God gave us the opportunity that comes when people welcome you into their lives. A few quarters and some food created the space for us to listen to the gifts and challenges that face our neighbors. Being there allowed us to bear witness to the truth that there is a God and a church in their community who cares about them and wants to bless them.
Being church in a new place and a new way made it possible for us to love God and love our neighbors, which Jesus once said sums up all the instructions of the law and all the teaching of the prophets.
When their laundry was finished and folded, they walked out the door to head back home. But not before they had something to say to us.
“You have no idea how much you all blessed us. God bless you.”
Without walking into a church building, they received a blessing and gave one back. That's the thing about blessing -- when you get it, you can't help but share it.
I imagine a few of our neighbors from the laundromat notice our church now when they drive down Chapman Highway. I like to think that as they point to our building they may smile and say something like, "That’s the church that pays for laundry. They are pretty good neighbors."
That’s just fine with us.
The Rev. Daniel Ogle is pastor at Colonial Heights United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
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