a good turn in eucharist linens

Having Faith In A Simple Good Turn

A household chore becomes a way to show devotion

For many people, a significant part of the way they give back is through a church or other religious institution. For Alison Huff, who volunteers in a range of ways for the church she belongs to in Providence, Rhode Island, the volunteer work she does that has the biggest impact on her own life is one of the simplest things of all: ironing.

Huff, a ballet dancer and mother of three, at one point belonged to the Altar Guild of the episcopal church she attends, where she used to help in cleaning the linens involved in the eucharist—the purificators, the lavabo cloths, and the corporals. But when time constraints forced her to resign those duties, the Guild asked if she would continue to iron the linens. “Because there are very few people, apparently, who know how to iron, or like to iron, or have an iron,” she said.

“Once a week I take home all these cloths that have been used for the Sunday services, and they have daily services as well, so it’s a big tupperware full of these cloths. I take them home and I wash them on Sunday and I iron them usually on a Saturday before I bring them back,” she told Good Turns recently.

“I love to do it. Of all the ways I volunteer for the church, which are a lot, it’s my favorite thing to do,” Huff says. “It’s so satisfying. You wash them and then you don’t put them in the dryer, because they’re linen and so you iron them wet. Ironing is just really nice. Sometimes I’m ironing on a Sunday morning right before the service, but I always really like it.”

“What was missing was reverence for something that was bigger than all these other decisions we had to make all the time”

“It feels devotional, of all the things I do. Usually everything’s hectic: oh I’ve got coffee hour today, oh I’ve got to teach Sunday school and I’m not prepared. But ironing, I can do that,” she says.

“For someone with my personality, there’s so many things you can’t control. This one little piece of cloth, you can. If something’s all smashed up and wrinkly and then you iron it and it’s all smooth and then you fold it into a perfect little square and you put all the like items in a pile, it’s very satisfying. I like order, I guess.”

Huff did not always find order in the church. “I didn’t grow up going to church,” she says. “It wasn’t part of our childhood. But then when I had kids, eventually I just really felt like it was missing.”

“So when Rose was in second grade, and Devon was in fifth grade, and Nathan was in seventh grade, I literally got them up one morning and said, Okay everyone, get dressed, now we’re going to church,” Huff recalls. After a false start (the church Huff took her kids to that morning wasn’t holding services that day), she found the episcopal church she still belong to more than ten years later, and she has been taking her children there practically every Sunday since.

“It’s a pretty serious mass, an hour and a half every Sunday morning,” Huff says. “I just felt like the ritual was missing for us, maybe partially because there was addiction in our household and so much that I couldn’t control. It just felt like what was missing was reverence for something, some kind of reverence and ritual and something that you would stop and pay attention to that was bigger than all these other decisions we had to make all the time.

“For me, faith is so difficult, to let go,” Huff says. “Certainly that was not part of our upbringing with hippie parents and new-age philosophy, that whole self-help thing where you take charge of your life, and if there’s something wrong with your life it’s your fault, just change it, fix it. Having faith is just so different from that. It’s very difficult for me even now, after going to church with the kids all these years. Just ironing those things, just the simplicity of that task, it never feels like work. It’s more like that’s a gift that’s being given to me. It’s not like I’m doing something for the church for those few minutes. It’s surrender. Even though I am controlling something, I’m making this cloth do what I want, it’s almost like I’m just the conduit for how it happens.”

“It’s simple,” Huff says. “Like faith should be.”

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user ErgsArt)

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