If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. Isaiah 58:10
Meet the Rev. Canon Britt Olson, Vicar of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. St. Luke’s received a grant through The Episcopal Church Office of Church Planting and Redevelopment.
Share a little bit about yourself.
I have served as the vicar of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, for the past four years. Before answering this call, I was the canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Northern California, and I’ve also worked in the dioceses of Oregon, El Camino Real, and Nevada. St. Luke’s is located in a neighborhood northwest of downtown called “Ballard.” Ballard is one of the hottest neighborhoods here for young people. People call it “the Brooklyn of Seattle,” and they call me “the Vicar of Ballard.”
Share a story about a time when you felt blessed.
I like to say that St. Luke’s is a 125-year-old church startup. When I arrived, there were about 10 or 15 people gathering for worship on an average Sunday. Despite the small numbers, I could tell that there was an incredible energy and ministry here. For example, there was this group of women who were coming in every single morning at 5:30 a.m. to prepare breakfast and meals to feed members of the community. They were serving home-cooked meals – oatmeal, cereal, eggs, and vegetables – really healthy stuff! It was like walking into your grandma’s kitchen to be fed. For most of the people, the Edible Hope Kitchen is their place to warm up, wake up, be welcomed, and receive what might be their only meal of the day.
My first day on the job was a Thursday, which is when the volunteers prepare and serve a family-style lunch. Walking into that lunch was like entering the Kingdom of God. I experienced community, service, love, and generous hospitality, and I realized that in the midst of this small, struggling congregation that could barely keep the lights on was an incredible abundance of hope. I felt blessed by God and blessed to get to be a part of this ministry here at St. Luke’s.
Now, four years later, this blessing has multiplied in countless ways. We regularly have 60-70 people in church with an average age of under 40. We serve meals to nearly 200 people a day and offer multiple ministries, including an overnight shelter, a community garden, honey beehives, a clothing closet, and a music school. Our meals program was named by a guest who said, “You serve more than food, you serve hope, edible hope.” We are called to feed people both physically and spiritually.
In what ways are you called to pass on blessings to others?
Seattle has the third highest homeless population in the country and is at the epicenter of a drug and mental health crisis. We have been able to pass on the blessings we’ve received by lovingly serving the homeless in our community with dignity. We have had funerals here for homeless people and provide pastoral care to families who have lost loved ones to the streets. We are able to share faith, give, and serve by offering a space where when you’re here, you are home, no matter what your circumstances. We never turn anyone down. Everyone gets fed.
How has your ministry impacted your community?
St. Luke’s has been doing this type of ministry for more than 30 years, before my time, and I couldn’t begin to quantify the impact of this legacy of service. One impact of the economic boom here in the Northwest with Amazon and Microsoft and other major corporations establishing themselves is growing income disparity and gentrification. St. Luke’s is doing what it’s always done but picking up the pace to try to keep up with the scale of the human misery we’re seeing arrive at our front doors.
What about the Way of Love or the Jesus Movement gives you hope for the Church?
One of the messages in Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Way of Love that resonates with me is that we all have a place at the table.