Not too long after I moved into the Worker House, my mom asked me for “Details! I need more details about what you do on daily basis at the Worker House.” She said. That comment prompted an idea for this post, “A Week at the Catholic Worker.”
Every day at the Worker House is a little bit different, but the same general rhythm guides each day:
- Guests and Workers alike wake up and fix their own breakfast and coffee each morning.
- At 8:30a, whichever Worker is “On House” for the Morning Shift opens up the office, unlocks the doors, and begins to answer the phone.
- Guests leave the house at 9a M-F to search for work, housing, etc.
- Workers pause for contemplative prayer at 12p M-F and lunch usually follows.
- At 1p, whichever Worker is “On House” for the Afternoon Shift takes over.
- Guests arrive back home around 4pm.
- Dinner is on the table at 6pm, and we all enjoy a meal together.
- At 6p, whichever Worker is “On House” for the Evening Shift takes over.
- After dinner one of the guests does the dishes, and the Worker On House stores and labels the leftovers in the fridge.
- At 10p, all guests must be inside, the doors are locked and most folks go to bed.
Each shift for the Workers contains its own to-do lists. The primary tasks for the Morning Shift include: opening up the house for the day, answering the phone, taking down messages, doing the dishes from breakfast, starting the dishwasher, cleaning up the kitchen so that it is in good working order for the afternoon shift, and leading contemplative prayer. The primary tasks for the Afternoon Shift include: doing the dishes from lunch, unloading the dishwasher, answering the phone and taking messages, starting a fire, preparing dinner for 10-15 people, setting the table, and placing the meal on the table at 6p. The primary tasks for the Evening Shift include: assisting with the cleanup from dinner, answering the phone, being present to guests who are home for the evening, and closing down the house for the day. Each and every shift also includes cleaning, straightening, sorting, vacuuming, sweeping, etc.
I realize that I have mentioned “answering the phone” as a primary task for each and every shift, so perhaps I should explain why this is such a big deal. We receive several calls each day from folks who are searching for housing. Most of the time our house is full, so we are unable to offer them anything other than a few suggestions of other places that they might try calling instead. However, we do operate without a waiting list, and sometimes our rooms become available unexpectedly, so we encourage folks to continue calling back and checking with us for availability throughout the coming weeks. We also receive numerous calls for our guests from potential employers and housing providers. When these calls come in, we take a message and post that on a bulletin board, which the guests check when they arrive home each day.
Just as each day contains its own rhythms, so does each week. On Sundays evenings we have a weekly meeting that orients our week. On Monday mornings we partner with Denver Food Rescue, and sort through food donations and make about ten boxes of food to deliver to other low-income families and shelters in our neighborhood. On Wednesday’s we receive food donations from a Vegan Market called Nooch. On Thursday’s we have Catholic Mass in the living room at 7:30p. On Friday’s we gather the leftover bread, bagels, and pastries from Panera.
Now, within this regular rhythm, we deal with completely unpredictable things each and every day. One recent week included the following, unpredictable highlights:
- Saturday Night: At 12:30am, the evicted father of the family that was living in our family room was high on crack and standing on the front porch with his wife banging on the door. Marcus and I went down stairs and opened up the blinds. Levi, the father, then pointed at us through the window, called us a bunch of really nice things, and demanded that we allow him to enter the house. We told him that he was not welcome at our house any longer, and we would not let his wife in unless he left. After a few minutes, he did leave, and we unlocked the door and let Alexis in. Afterwards, she and Marcus had a conversation in which we decided it was time for her and the kids to leave.
- Sunday afternoon: After church we packed up the family, loaded their things into the truck, and then drove them to a Safe House in Littleton, CO.
- Monday and Tuesday: We cleaned up the family room and made it ready for a new family.
- Wednesday: We began taking calls on the family room, around 10am a family of four came by the house. The family had recently relocated to Denver from Chandler, Arizona. The stepfather to the two children was an illegal who spoke no English. The mother of the two children was battling Lupus. We had an hour-long conversation with them but by the end of the conversation they decided that our house probably wasn’t the best fit for their needs.
- Thursday: We had another conversation with a different family of four. Afterwards, Gina and Joey, their two-year-old son Little Joey, and their six-month-old son Jeremiah moved in. In the afternoon, I assembled a baby crib, changed all the linens and set up the room for the new family.
- Friday: At 5am someone was banging on the door to my room. I opened up the door to see Doug, the 68 year old bi-polar man who lived in the basement standing at the door, oxygen tank in hand. He was in a manic fit, had climbed the stairs, and come to my room in a panic about his morning meds. I diffused the situation, turned off my alarm for my morning run, and went back to bed.
- Saturday: I went skiing.
In between all of these times… the work, the chores, the unpredictable episodes… there is the gift of time. In stepping away from school, and regular work, I have become a person who has time. I’m not too busy to meet up with friends. I’m not too busy to have a long conversation. I’m not too busy to sit still and read for hours on end.
A week at the Catholic Worker is this dynamic experience of hard-work, free time, and these unpredictable episodes, which I can only describe as “life experience,” that just might run me ragged if it weren’t for this regular rhythm of the 12pm Prayer, the 6pm Table, the Thursday night Mass, and my weekend Sabbath. This rhythm just keeps coming around, keeps coming around, keeps coming around… and in so doing it provides these daily and weekly breaths of fresh that orient, sustain, and enable me to interpret my life.