Every second Thursday of the month, a handful of cheerful church volunteers gathers at a local laundromat that doubles as the “Church of the Suds of Love.”
I’m part of a crew from St. Vincent de Paul parish in St. Louis that helps homeless and other poor people get their laundry done for free. It’s one of several ways our parish reaches out to people in need of basic services.
On one such evening, I leaned against the counter to chat with Roz, the wife of Jerry, the owner. After a hectic hour of signing in guests, providing nametags, and letting other volunteers know how many loads of laundry (more or less) the guest had, I appreciated a minute to lean on the counter. Roz had just finished chatting with one of her regular customers, checking on his family members and asking about his day. She turned to me and said, “You know, it’s more than a laundromat.”
Oh, so true! While Roz and Jerry do run a laundromat, they are more than just business people. They are mom and dad figures who relate as confidants, friends, and mentors to the neighborhood.
Then, on the second Thursday, the St. Vincent’s crew of volunteers invades their space, hauling in plastic containers of laundry pods, dryer sheets, extra clothing, sign-in sheets for volunteers and guests, nametags, and whatever miscellany we think we might need to accommodate the needs of our guests.
Always, there are games for kids, homemade cookies, candy, water, and smiles and hugs. “It’s more than a laundromat” for us too. We become the Church of the Suds of Love, creating a space for conversation and communion.
After almost two years of this ministry, we now know our regulars, try to arrange that they get the machines they like, and chat with them as the washers slosh away.
The volunteers have formed a small church community within the larger parish. We meet in the parish hall after the Sunday Eucharist and share our experiences, discussing what we can do to improve our ever-evolving system.
We can find God anywhere. Prayer happens in many forms and in more places than the sacred space of a church. Our service at the Soulard Laundromat becomes our parish on the second Thursday of each month.
Truly, “it’s more than a laundromat.”