Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God’s help.
The Baptismal Covenant
Book of Common Prayer (Page 305)
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines dignity as “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.” In my humble opinion, this definition of the word dignity needs a resurrection. We often use the word dignity as a synonym for pride or self-worth, as if dignity is something that depends on one’s ability to be self-sufficient and respectable. Our baptismal covenant as Episcopalians does not require that we only respect the dignity of the dignified, but of every human being. It’s one thing to say that you respect the dignity of everyone, but putting those words into action is something else entirely.
When we think of words like worth, honor, and esteem those in political power, celebrities, or those well respected by society often come to mind. We then think of grand gestures and ceremonies to further communicate just how dignified these powerful people are. But I’m not so convinced that dignity for every human being starts with grand gestures, if it even uses them at all. Dignity for every human being starts by preparing small things with great love, as if you are preparing for Christ himself.
Every Tuesday, St. Clare’s Ministries (hosted by St. Peter & St. Mary Episcopal Church) hosts a community meal for upwards of 150 people experiencing a range of situations from homelessness to food insecurity. St. Clare’s also provides a store in which clients can shop for clothing, shoes, and sanitary products at no cost to them. In preparing these aspects of the ministry, it is a constant process to instill dignity in every aspect of that preparation. There is a world of difference between rack of shirts thrown together hurriedly than one that is organized and neat. There is a world of difference between a blank table than one that is set with a tablecloth and flowers.
These small acts of love are what we can use to respect the dignity of every person we come into contact with in service. We can choose to do the bare minimum as if we are the only ones with dignity, or we can choose to take time to prepare for our beloved brothers and sisters. Having seen these decisions made on a daily basis by countless ministries, the choice is clear. Our clients, in the eyes of God, already exist in the quality or state of being worthy, honored, and esteemed. It is up to us to see what God sees and to act on that vision.