From Servants to Friends

by the Reverend Paul McLain


A couple of years ago, a church board of which I’m a member made a large grant to Literacy Mid-South. Since I was encouraging many of you to volunteer with this organization as part of this new partnership, I thought it might be time to practice what I preach and volunteer myself. I went through the volunteer training and was eventually paired with an adult learner named Randy. He’s an African-American man around my age.


Randy shared with me that he’s a veteran. During his military service, he noticed that the sergeants and others in authority would help the white enlisted men develop their reading skills but would not do this for the African-American soldiers. Randy has learned to sight-read just enough to get by. He longs to be able to fill out forms on his own. He would also love to read devotional books, novels, and manuals about the cars, lawnmowers, and machines with which he works.


In addition to the resource materials given us by Literacy Mid-South, we have selected reading materials of interest to Randy including Corvette magazine. Randy has a 1984 Corvette that he’s been restoring for years. His eyes light up when we read about the engine and bodywork being done by fellow Corvette lovers! He has taught me, the least mechanical person on the planet, an appreciation for the intricacy of automotive engineering and design.


Over the course of our year of working together, something has happened that I didn’t expect. I thought of this as an outlet for personal service where I would be engaged hands-on in doing something for “the least of these.” What really happened is Randy and I have become friends. We read together, share coffee and tea, and talk about our families, hopes, and faith.


A 12th-century monk named Aelred wrote a classic work entitled Spiritual Friendship. In it, he quoted Jesus in giving voice to the evolution of his relationship with his disciples as he said to them: ‘I no longer call you servants but friends.’ Aelred saw our human friendships as extensions of Jesus’s friendship with us as he wrote: ‘In friendship, we join honesty with kindness, truth with joy, sweetness with goodwill, and affection with kind action. All this begins with Christ, is advanced through Christ, and is perfected in Christ. The ascent does not seem too steep or too unnatural, then, from Christ’s inspiring the love which we love a friend to Christ’s offering himself as the friend we may love, so that tenderness may yield to tenderness, sweetness to sweetness, and affection to affection.’


Time with Randy feels less transactional and more a time of mutual learning, growing, and sheer joy! Who are the surprising friends in your life?

16 thoughts on “From Servants to Friends”

    1. Molly,
      So glad to learn you were a literacy tutor. Sounds like you built deep friendships with Frank and Lillian. I would love to hear more about your story with them.

  1. Thank you Paul for this sharing. I immediately thought of 3 friends that I have met while grocery shopping. Anthony at Trader Joe’s, Virginia at Costco and David at Whole Foods. So thankful for these friendships!!!

  2. This is the reason I continue to do a little counseling. The possibilities for relationship are endless. Thank you, Paul.

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