An Ode to the Op Shop

The Op Shop is shorthand for The Opportunity Shop, a ministry of the church that I serve.  The Op Shop is located in the basement and is a place that sells the leftovers of people’s living – what remains when we’ve had our fill of things.  You get the gist – the Op Shop is a parish thrift store.

In the bible, the only miracle to appear in all four canonical gospels is Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand.  It’s a miracle that begins with hunger, results in compassion and ends with leftovers.  Jesus blesses five loaves of barley and two fish and after asking his followers to distribute what was multiplied, together they fed five thousand persons (not including women and children).  After everybody had their fill, there were leftovers.

Funds generated by The Opportunity Shop, a ministry of St. Alban’s Parish since 1955, are overseen by a group called The Workers of St. Albans.  The WSA recently held its monthly board meeting where members discern how to distribute Op Shop income.  At these monthly meetings board members carefully consider, as The Book of Common Prayer commends, the poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy to forget: the homeless and destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care from them.  In 2013 alone the WSA distributed over $200,000 in grants to organizations who serve those whom Jesus declares to be the greatest in God’s kingdom.  Now in its fifty-seventh year of  doing “business,” together the Op Shop and the WSA have generated monetary contributions that figure in the many millions for organizations who work on behalf of those that society considers to be the the least but whom God considers to be the greatest.  And all from what was left over.  That’s miraculous multiplication.

In a recent sermon I spoke of a miracle as that which happens when the ordinary becomes extraordinary.  When I think of the work of the Op Shop and the WSA I realize that Jesus was right; with faith the size of a mustard seed people can move mountains, even if it’s just one rock (or leftover sweater) at a time.  Our congregation now equates the work of the Op Shop and other ministries like it as ministries that turn “water into wine.”  We’ve even situated water into wine bins in the nave of the church so that when people come to worship or to pray there’s always a place to gather simple, ordinary offerings such that they can become extraordinary.  The offerings placed in these bins become sacraments, as our tradition suggests, because in offering them to God they become “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain signs by which we receive that grace.”

Last night when reading through a collection of poems that I’ve gathered and like to read this time of year I came across a poem that helped me imagine the day when all our of simple acts of generosity, many of them long forgotten, will take us back in their arms.  For today I’m calling the poem an Ode to the Op Shop:

In the Basement of the Goodwill Store

by Ted Kooser

In musty light, in the thin brown air

of damp carpet, doll heads and rust,

beneath long rows of sharp footfalls

like nails in a lid, an old man stands

trying on glasses, lifting each pair

from the box like a glittering fish

and holding it up to the light

of a dirty bulb. Near him, a heap

of enameled pans as white as skulls

looms in the catacomb shadows,

and old toilets with dry red throats

cough up bouquets of curtain rods.

You’ve seen him somewhere before.

He’s wearing the green leisure suit

you threw out with the garbage,

and the Christmas tie you hated,

and the ventilated wingtip shoes

you found in your father’s closet

and wore as a joke. And the glasses

which finally fit him, through which

he looks to see you looking back—

two mirrors which flash and glance—

are those through which one day

you too will look down over the years,

when you have grown old and thin

and no longer particular,

and the things you once thought

you were rid of forever

have taken you back in their arms.

Happy Monday and Merry Christmas,


p.s.  The Op Shop always needs volunteers.  If you live in the Washington, DC area and want to help us turn water into wine, call 202-966-5288.

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8 Responses to An Ode to the Op Shop

  1. Bob Sellery says:

    Thank you, Jim, for this tribute to the Op Shop and WSA. Bob Sellery, recording secretary, WSA

  2. Donna Palmer says:

    Thank you Jim. I’m glad I am able to help out at the Op Shop, for all we do.

  3. Bob Witten says:

    Jim, I love the grace and clarity with which you find what we do as followers of The Lord in the words of the Bible. Your faith and wisdom have made the Advent journey much more rich and meaningful this year. Thank you for that gift! See you tomorrow. Bob

  4. Penny says:

    There you go again, blowing away the cobwebs of my mind and my soul, making it a better place.

  5. Jim says:

    Oddly enough, we got the following e-mail at the parish this morning:

    “Just a note of appreciation for the very helpful and courteous staff at the Opportunity Shop. You have some very fine people working there. I drove up from Florida the day after Thanksgiving and was on my way to the Cathedral and stopped in your shop and found all sorts of items to purchase, and soon had filled 3 large bags with those purchases. A very helpful woman would take items from me while I was shopping and carry them to the counter so I wasn’t inconvenienced! I found so many neat Christmas decorations, clothes, art-and all at amazingly low prices… But I realized that it would be a real problem to carry all that on a bus & the Metro to Crystal City, so the Staff was kind enough to hold all my purchases till the next day when I could come back in my car.
    In many ways, the time at the shop was the high point of my trip. Thank You all, and God Bless you.

    …Anonymous Customer

  6. Janice says:

    Thank you. I hope this is one of 20 plus thank you’d that you receive from other WSA and OpShop volunteers. Working in the shop is fun, a chance to work with a lot of nice people and the opportunity to be kind and welcoming to a lot of people who do not have many good and kind interactions. Janice

    Sent from my iPad


  7. Betty says:

    Thank you for your kind words and thought-provoking Monday “Cup”. I always look forward to the time I spend volunteering at the Op Shop, and serving on WSA has been a privilege. Now I know firsthand what good works the group has done for so many years.

  8. Thank you for this message. . . it helps me in my solo Christmas now without my dear Alden. . .

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