A Simpler Kind of Service

Posted: 11/28/2010

Glenmary Brother Curt Kedley at Windsor, N.C. food pantry

By Father John S. Rausch

In 2009, Brother Curt Kedley took on the task of replacing the rotten wood planters around 50 trees that line Granville and King Streets in downtown Windsor, N.C., with decorative stones that matched the sidewalks. The sweaty work gave Brother Curt an opportunity for some "sidewalk evangelization" as passers-by stopped to ask who he was and how the project was going.

He remembers seeing a fellow in an orange jumpsuit—an inmate from the county jail-up the street, sweeping around the Confederate monument. "It made me wonder how people perceived me," he snickers.

Brother Curt has provided outreach ministry to Bertie County, N.C., home to Glenmary's Catholic Community of Bertie County, since 2007. His manual work on the tree planters is an example of his humble approach to ministry: "Get yourself grounded to serve the folks. Be a foot-washing brother."

With degrees in social work and sociology, Brother Curt started his ministry with more traditional employment. In Georgia he worked for the housing authority in Toccoa. In western North Carolina he worked in community development, initiating a credit union and sheltered workshop plus building solar houses. Still, the call to minister one-to-one kept beckoning.

He excitedly remembers working in Back Roads Ministry with Brother Tom Kelly in Manassas, Ga. An idea of then-president Father Robert Berson, the ministry was meant to serve the "poorest of the poor." The brothers did home repairs: installing bathrooms, repairing roofs and refurbishing kitchens.

Never a master craftsman, Brother Curt marveled that Brother Tom could meticulously sketch the next day's plans, even calculating the number of nails needed. "I was comfortable with the grunt work," Brother Curt says with a smile.

Yet past experiences had groomed him for what has become his preferred ministry method: one-to-one. Observing how a middle-aged couple in a small restaurant in Georgia engaged their customers, he realized that what they were doing was real ministry.

"How do you enter people's lives?" he asks. "It's through eating and working with them."

So he applied for a seasonal job with a Claxton (Ga.) fruitcake company, knowing most of the hires were minorities. "I had a lot of time to talk with folks about things like religion and race," he says.

He's also worked at adult day care centers and nursing homes where he took on maintenance jobs such as swinging a mop and operating a floor buffer. "If you want to meet people, get a job pushing a dust mop," he says. After making the floors sparkle, he spends time talking with residents and even praying with them.

Brother Curt's spirituality was influenced by the missionary hermit of the Sahara, Venerable Charles de Foucauld, a hero heralded in Brother Curt's novitiate some 45 years ago. Foucauld sought to live among the poor in a spirit of service and solidarity exemplifying an evangelization of presence.

For Brother Curt this means sleeping nights in his Buckleberry Hermitage, a 9-by-10-foot converted tool shed. There he contemplates the privilege of working with the physically, mentally and emotionally challenged adults who now fill his days.

"Bring the world to the monastery and pray over it," he ruminates about his ministry. "This is my last hurrah trying to let go of my ego."

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 Glenmary Challenge.