Magazine article Momentum

Finding Ministry in Cafeteria Duty

Magazine article Momentum

Finding Ministry in Cafeteria Duty

Article excerpt

Does cafeteria duty prove that God has a sense of humor?

Lunchtime at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C. Eleven hundred students will march in, sit down, get fed and then march out over the course of four 45-minute periods.

Like military movements, the troops must be moved with precision. And, like military movements, effectiveness and efficiency depend upon coordination. That can come about only through planning and discipline-in other words, generalship. In St. John's, that means faculty cafeteria duty.

Yet, when St. John's schedules are distributed to teachers at the beginning of the school year and one is assigned "café duty," one doesn't feel like he or she has been promoted to the highest rank, but rather busted to KP duty. I have never had KP duty, but I do know what it's like to have cafeteria duty and, based upon my experiences, I'd rather take my chances with KP duty.

Why? Because in KP, you peel a potato; serving cafeteria duty, you may get hit with a French fry. Before I give the impression that mealtimes at St. John's are mayhem, most days are a matter of routine, although routine can be trying. After all, there is only so much "Pick it up," "Clean it up," "Put your chair in," "Who threw that?" that an adult can take.

Opportunity to Do His Work

But we are not mere adults. We are teachers at a Catholic school. And so those of us attuned to the teachings of Christ understand the opportunities he has put before us. Cafeteria duty is an opportunity to do his work. Within a span of 40 minutes, café duty affords many chances to "do Jesus," to reach students a few seconds at a time in ways that may linger with them for moments, hours, even a lifetime. The saints remind us that there is God's work in even the most trying of jobs. Café duty becomes an extension of our classroom and vocation to serve Christ.

I've been doing cafeteria duty for more than 20 years, from Cardinal Hayes and Cardinal Spellman high schools in the Bronx to Brother Rice High School in Harlem, and now to St. John's in Washington, D.C. In these schools, certain cafeteria jobs need to be done and each one provides the opportunity to be Christ-like.

There is the faculty member who must establish order on the food line. While the students wait in line, the teacher ministers Jesus. Each student's name is learned. The teacher focuses on the individual and, depending on the circumstance, comments: "How is your day going?" "What's the matter? You look upset," or "Your smile lights up the room." The faculty member who monitors the door engages in the same ministry: moments of love in the cafeteria.

A faculty member must supervise the cleaning up of the cafeteria. This team member proclaims the Gospel in the spirit of St. Francis: "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." This teacher preaches the Gospel with his actions. The cleaning weapons must be lined up: mop and wringer, bucket and sponges, garbage cans and plastic bags. The teacher is right in there with the students, not pulling rank-"I'm a faculty member"-but working alongside them to get the café shipshape for the next shift. It is not glorified work"Angels we have heard on high"-but important work, nonetheless.

That leaves the faculty coordinator who directs and manages the 40-minute cafeteria choreography. …

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