|A Review of
Thrift Store Saints:
Reviewed by Michelle Van Loon.
An eighth-grade math teacher living in Kalamazoo, MI tried stopping by her local St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop in 1995 on a couple of occasions in order to buy a gift for her daughter’s First Communion, but the store’s lights were off and its doors locked each time she attempted to visit. When Jane Knuth finally finds the store open, she grumbles to one of the staffers about her repeated encounters with the shop’s “Closed” sign. Eighty-two year old Dorothy explains that the store’s business hours are limited by the availability of its elderly volunteer staff, and invites Knuth to consider becoming part of the solution by becoming part of the store’s team.
Knuth had been a regular churchgoer, but as she embraced both the ministry of the Vincentians* and the community she found in her Kalamazoo St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop, her faith came alive in ways she never could have dreamed when she first walked into the store fifteen years ago. Thrift Store Saints offers readers 19 short chapters detailing her involvement with the Vincentians rich ministry to “the least of these” in a forgotten corner of Kalamazoo.
She’s been in the trenches long enough to have shed any sentimentality she might have once harbored about the ministry. What’s replaced it is something far more profound – and practical:
Juris Rubenis, a Latvian pastor, wrote, ‘Theology is talking about God when God is not in the room.’
I recognize that situation. I’ve been in that room. It’s comfortable.
Well, the St. Vincent de Paul shop seems to be more like talking with God when his is not only in the room, but he smells, and cries, and prefers to do all the talking himself. It’s this type of messiness that I have spent considerable effort to avoid.
Knuth’s lovely writing is packed with insight, and the stories she tells inspire and challenge her readers not to wait to do the Big Dramatic Act of Service in order to love God and our neighbor well. Thrift Store Saints reminds us that it might be as simple as lending a hand at a local ministry-run thrift store.
*From the St. Vincent de Paul website (www.svdpusa.org): Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (or “Vincentians”) are men and women who strive to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to individuals in need.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
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