March 28, 2018

March 2018 Blogpost

After a recent Sunday prayer and Communion service, a group gathered around the car for some socks, hats, gloves, and face masks.  Just as the last person walked away, a young man who had just received a pair socks suddenly went down to the ground hard.  He was clearly high and may have been overdosing.  A Resource Center Case Worker came across the street and she was already on the phone with 911.  The thoughts raced through my mind… I’m not an EMT.  What can I possible do?  Then our mission statement came into my head.  “We offer a consistent, compassionate, pastoral presence to the homeless and marginalized in downtown Portland, Maine.”  That’s it, I was simply put there as a loving, compassionate presence.  So, I held him and prayed.  Nothing more and nothing less.

Unfortunately, this is all too common an event in the homeless community.  Yet God finds ways to remind us that He’s always there, especially amidst the suffering.

January 18, 2018

January 2018 Blogpost

Every so often, there are little snapshot moments that almost perfectly encapsulate what street work is like.  A couple of weeks back, I was walking up to the day shelter in 10-degree weather, carrying a backpack full of socks, another bag of socks so that I didn’t run out, and a bag of winter hats. I was wearing two coats, a hat and gloves and a scarf to keep the winter chill at bay.  I was also limping because of a minor but annoying foot injury. 
I took a breath, said a prayer, walked into the day shelter with all of this stuff, and I no sooner walked through the door than my glasses completely fogged up and I couldn’t see anything.  I could still hear all the voices and ancillary noise of a chaotic day at the shelter, made all the more jagged by the cold weather, but I was essentially blind. 
I took off my gloves and tried to wipe my fogged-over glasses on my shirt, meanwhile dropping various things on the floor as I stood in the middle of the chaos with little idea of what was going on around me, except for the young man who was telling me that the care given to the older man who had ultimately died the night before in the overnight shelter had been poorly managed.  I was trying to respond to him, while simultaneously attempting to pick up dropped gloves and still wiping at my recalcitrant glasses. 
I finally gave up on the glasses, shoved them in a pocket, dropped the extra socks I was carrying and tried to get my blurry bearings in the middle of it all.  The young man continued to talk about the night before, and other folks were coming up to ask for socks.  I bent over, picked up the bag of hats I’d dropped, fixed the young man with a blurry gaze and asked him if he’d mind giving out the hats to those who might need them.  Hey stopped speaking and his face seemed to light up.  “Sure,” he said, and he happily wandered off to distribute the hats.
I was trying to open bags of socks to give them out, when someone said “Hey, Pastor, you dropped your glove,” and he handed me my glove, disappearing before I could thank him.

As so often on the street, help arrives when it’s needed, grace is always lurking just around the corner, and no matter how cold it gets, there’s always a warm patch in the middle of it all.

November 22, 2017

November 2017 Blog Post

On a very windy Sunday, we gathered, as we do every Sunday outside the Preble Street Resource Center.  We come to be together, we come to find love and acceptance, we come to pray for each other, we come to be in the presence of the Holy sharing in God’s sacred feast.  I experienced an unmistakable presence of the Holy this day and I was humbled.

holy amidst broken…
where two are gathered
on the corner with one
table, cloth, plate, chalice…
more joining looking for acceptance
storm brewing, gloves?
yes, after prayer circle
tiny sparrows hopping up down
flitting in and out of the chain-link fence
foraging for food in the litter
come, spirit, come
bread, juice
need hot drink, dunkin cards?
holy one guide my heart
extending belonging
bread of life, cup of blessing
love for all
prayers shared and lifted
for self for others
prayers for healing
wholeness in a world of bits and pieces
safety where sanctuary can be scarce
warmth in the cold and wind
crash - broken cup, spilt juice
washed in love
accepted by Christ
eye on the sparrow
just as i am
blessed to be present

in the holy

September 21, 2017

September 2017

Every Sunday one or another Grace-Street Ministry pastor (now five in all) conducts the ministry’s 10-15 minute service of Prayer and Communion at the corner of Preble and Oxford streets across from the Preble street soup kitchen in Portland. S/he announces the service (by permission) inside the Resource center then walks down the hill, typically with 2, 3, or 4 four people, to set up the Table. Another 3 or 4 people waiting in the lunch line cross the street to join the service. A few more drop in as it proceeds. This way you might begin with 5 or 6 folks and end with 10 or 12, allowing for some coming and going. There are always new faces as well as regulars.

One hot Sunday last August, the service began and proceeded just so. The pastor greeted people, invited them around the circle to introduce and say a word about themselves, then offered the Prayer of St. Francis for all to read together. Closing the prayer and moving into Communion however, the pastor was interrupted by the beginnings of an altercation. This happens, and it requires attention.
On one side of the circle, a worshipper, pushing her walker before her, was advancing on another on the other side. There had been an apparent affront. The pastor, no more than a couple sentences into the sacrament, put down the Bread and was about to intervene. Then something new happened. The circle itself stepped in, itself intervened, put itself between the quarrelers and urged them kindly, skillfully, and effectively to let the service proceed. The circle re-formed, the Communion was served, we prayed ourselves out, a short benediction was spoken, socks and tee-shirts were distributed, requests for Tuesday were taken, and then, having owned the service, folks went on to lunch.

Grace happens.

July 26, 2017

July 2017 Update

We are all impacted by the changing seasons in New England, and we make adjustments such as putting the snow tires on and taking them off, changing the screens and storm windows, going between the lawnmower and snow blower, and swapping the clothes in our closets.  While we feel the changes, the impact on those who spend the majority of their time out in the elements is that much greater.  I thought that the summer would bring welcome relief to the homeless, and in many ways it does.  However, it also brings with it a new set of challenges.  If you’re sleeping on the 3rd floor of the shelter, the fans are probably not keeping up with the rising heat and humidity which makes sleep a challenge.  So maybe you take a nap in the courtyard of Preble Street Resource Center or the yard of the Oxford Street Shelter.  As the sun moves across the sky your shady spot is now in the direct sun and you wake up with severe burns.  Unfortunately, going to Walmart for aloe and some loose-fitting scrubs probably isn’t an option.
Sometimes the pastors of Grace-Street Ministry are able to offer the aloe and scrubs, and sometimes we’re able to just lend a compassionate ear and shoulder that acknowledges their humanity and reminds someone that they are a beloved child of the Holy One.  Whatever the season, the longing to know we’re loved does not change, especially if one is a member of the marginalized of society. 
Thank you for your prayers and support for this amazingly complex and dynamic community.  May God’s peace and blessings be with you.

Pastor Dave