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.