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 anservice 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.
April 07, 2015
February 19, 2015
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.
January 05, 2015
A family -including two teens - that we have known for years in this ministry, stuffed 25 big Christmas stockings for those on the street. They showed up on Christmas Eve to say hello and distributed them to the elderly and handicapped who were waiting on the first dinner line at the soup kitchen. I watched the scene of mutual joy from across the street, thinking these teens won't avoid or be afraid of people who seem down and out. Their parents have helped them understand something about poverty and compassion. All of us have our “edge of compassion” where kindness dries up and judgement shrinks our heart. It's where we forget the other is our brother or sister. In this ministry, we pray that all of us, housed and homeless, those unemployed and those economically comfortable get stretched- that Spirit works on our fear to bring us closer to the Truth and we all get shocked by what the world looks like through the eyes of Love.
A New Year of blessings, clarity and joy for all, Love, Pastor Mair, Pastor Bob and Pastor Jeff
November 10, 2014
So now the weather turns! the nights and days are first cooler then colder and all too soon there will be snow and ice. Some, indeed many, of our people, are caught a little off guard in late October. Just weeks before sneakers and cotton clothes sufficed. Now, "pastor Mair, pastor Bob, pastor Jeff," whichever one of us is walking Congress street or at the Resource Center or in one of the Shelters, "I need boots please, size ... And do you have a coat 2xl?" THANKS to our many many partner churches (you know who you are), we may often say, "Yes, I'll have this for you , here at the shelter, between 2 and 3." And we pass out dozens and dozens and dozens of pairs of socks each week, new clean warm socks, thanks to our partners. Meantime, a baby is born to a street couple, a blessing and a challenge to them both (just consider) and we are soon in the help-with-diapers and booties business. Wonderful, and challenging. And then a young woman's uncle dies unexpectedly from the results of an accident just 24 hour earlier, and she is alone. "Would a prayer help, a ride?" Yes, and so we pray together, and there are tears and tears, and thanks, and then she leaves for the hospital. And then it is and before the Soup kitchen opens at we once more gather at Oxford and Preble street for a short Service and Communion with ten, fifteen, twenty of our people, and we are the church again, the street church, together. Thank you Lord that we may give and receive in these ways as the days get shorter and the weather turns colder. Protect we pray these our people. All praise to Thee, Amen
October 08, 2014
The leaves are changing, there’s a chill in the air, the angle of the light is lower and the squirrels move with greater urgency as the season shifts. On the street, there is a slight but pervasive sense of foreboding as the needs morph from t-shirts and sneakers to boots, winter coats and sleeping bags, straining our modest resources even further.
As the new kid on the block, I have a steep learning curve – particularly in the face of a mountain of need with a molehill of resources.
But in spite of all that, there are small miracles every day – the pair of shoes that perfectly fit a woman sitting with swollen, blistered feet and crutches up against a chain link fence along Congress Street, or the man in the wheelchair, his body worn out from a lifetime of working, praying his disability claim goes through this time , but in the same breath telling me that if he could do one thing in his life right now, it would be to take away the Parkinson’s tremors from a woman he knows at church and carry them in his own body.
It’s truly a blessing to be able to do this work.