Communion

Communion

August 11, 2015

AUGUST UPDATE

Last June, Jim was new at Preble Street. He had crushed his foot in an auto accident 25 years ago and had since held a succession of manual, heavy duty jobs. Now I can’t do without this crutch, he said, wincing, and with all my weight on this other leg, my good foot is giving out too. Can you help me, pastor?

I met Jim on Tuesdays or a Sunday thereafter. We’d talk. I got him cushioned sneakers, which helped. But it didn't address the deterioration of the foot bones. It's been bone on bone for years, he said. Mid-July, Jim’s Case worker and I brought him to Maine Med's orthopedic clinic. There, an empathetic specialist fitted him with a "boot," which surrounded the injured foot and ankle and eased the pain. At the desk, preliminary steps were taken for a surgical appointment. I love you two, Jim said on the way out, hobbled but hopeful.

Ten days passed. I looked forward to seeing Jim again, to hearing how much better his foot was in the boot, how much his pain had eased, how much he looked forward to his surgery date. Instead, outside the soup kitchen, Jim described how nothing of this had happened, how the pain was back in force, how no surgery could be scheduled until a raft of papers were assembled and processed. Jim was back in the hole, flush with pain, in despair.

Nearly every one of our people faces a version of Jim's plight. Nearly every one carries the burden of this or that past injury and is alone with it in one sense or another. We pastors can facilitate connections to health care, to housing, even to employment. We can and do address physical circumstances with boots, sneakers, socks, hoodies, underwear, t-shirts, and the like. But we know we succeed in this giving when somehow we also communicate God’s own mysterious and abiding love. And that’s when it happens: a knowing look, a gesture of gratitude, a prayer or a blessing, or just an “I love you, pastor.”

Then the burdens re-assert, the tide of needs comes back in, and we know, and our people know, that the work is always, always up-hill. Then we all wince, and we go on.

June 25, 2015

JULY UPDATE

Out on the street, in addition to the socks and the t-shirts, the sneakers and the coffee cards, we do a lot of praying.  We pray for the souls of loved ones who have died, we pray for children who have been taken away, and we pray for the strength to get through another day out on the street.  In prayer, there is the hope of a new and brighter day.

Most of the time it’s hard to know if our prayers have been answered.  One has to take the long view and have faith that over time change will come to the circumstances of our lives, and that our immediate comfort is tied to that hope for the future.
But then there are the times where there’s a clear and dynamic answer, an unambiguous affirmation that our prayers have been heard and answered.  That happened last night when the City Council of Portland voted unanimously to restore funding for the overflow shelter at the Preble Street Resource Center, keeping 75 homeless adults safe and off the night streets of our city.   And by continuing to provide General Assistance for asylum seekers, the council showed that “Life is Good Here” isn’t just a motto for upscale condo residents, it’s a motto for all of us.

Compassion ruled the day.  Our prayers were answered.   Amen and blessed be.

April 30, 2015

May 2015 - Update

One day while visiting with a homeless woman, who was severely mentally and physically challenged, she shared, “Pastor, I can't even pray. Do you know what that's like?” I told her I did know and that I had found it like being in the darkest of tunnels. As I was thinking this, I heard within,”You pray for her”.  I knew this was not meant as,  pray for her well-being, but, rather, you stand next to her and pray because she can't. At our best, this is what we all can do.  When there is no voice we can manage, when the words are dried up and the heart cannot find the faith, someone stand for us and pray- someone remember when we cannot remember and, with humility, speak for us.When we have been dealt just too much to bear and the injustice is drowning us, stand up and call out to heaven for us. 


Sometimes someone will ask what we are up to on the streets, and one of the things I say is, “Our business is prayer and we may be able to help with a few needs”.

April 07, 2015

April Update 2015

Well, you’d scarcely know that spring has arrived in Portland these first few days of April, and as usual March came in like a lion and went out, well, like a lioness. Still, Grace-Street Ministry’s three pastors and several volunteers are a hardy lot, and for as long as boots, gloves, coats, and long johns are required in and about the shelters, we shall hand them out. Then we'll switch to sneakers and tarps and tee shirts. 
 
Our people, Portland’s homeless and marginalized, number into the many hundreds, and many of them shoulder heavy burdens and face serious challenges, as every Preble Street Case Worker knows. But as God is with our people (Matt 25:40) so we take each one as a gift, and from where s/he is, here and now, right there beside us. And besides the “stuff” we distribute, we offer the intangibles of companionship when it is needed and prayer when is warranted. And we get on the phone or into the car when one of ours has a shot at an apartment or a job or needs a prescription filled or a trip to the bus station.

It is hard to put in writing, but there are very close moments in this work, at an 11:30  Sunday service across from the Preble Soup Kitchen, or on the walks we take along Congress street, or in a hospital room at Maine Medical, or in the spirituality group at Amistad Day Shelter, or in the heavy press of the Resource Center or Courtyard at Preble Street, moments of great joy, moments of deep sorrow, moments of serious humor. And each of these moments, we believe, is given us and given our people by the grace of God, as an offering or an instruction for the Journey through life, our journey together. It is humbling.

February 19, 2015

March 2015 Update

The Portland Press Herald had an article on February 18th that said there is more ice in the harbor than there’s been in 35 years.  We’re also about a foot ahead of the snow total average for the entire season and we have over a month to go before winter begins to loosen her grip. 

This kind of winter makes one even more thankful for the blessings of a warm house to hunker down in, and also makes one more acutely aware of the dangers facing those who are homeless.  We have had many, many requests for boots, for coats, for hats and gloves – all the things that it make it possible to be out on a Maine winter day without risking hypothermia, frostbite or worse.  So imagine my surprise last week when I went to Walmart to fill a cart with winter clothes and discovered instead rack upon rack of t-shirts and bathing suits.  I’d forgotten that the acute needs of those who so often go without don’t really affect the seasonal rotation of a large national retailer.  Just another example of how different reality is for those who are living on the margins.

But on the bright side – and there is always a bright side – the generosity of churches, of individuals, of businesses like the Portland Gear Hub have allowed us to continue to help with the small things that bring comfort during the most challenging season of the year. 

And even though our street corner cathedral is buried in snow and ice, we’ve found other places to pray – sometimes in the courtyard outside the day shelter, and sometimes in the warmth and chaos of the soup kitchen.  There is an extra potency to these small moments of the sacred when the world outside turns stark and cold and uninviting.  It is these moments – more than the boots and the gloves and the hats – that make our work of some value.  Holding hands in a circle with people struggling to survive, while an angry patron whacks the coffee urn in frustration, and we raise our eyes and our voices up to the divine in the midst of the sturm und drang of another day on the street – this is a snapshot moment that, for all its brevity, is nothing short of miraculous. 


So here’s to another season of snow, of ice, of cold and of the remarkable capacity of the human spirit to rise above the challenges of the day-to-day and bathe in the pure light of love, in the pure light of God.