Another leadership meeting. Our pizza place is closed for the summer, so we've been meeting picnic style on the common. It's not optimum, some people are uncomfortable on the ground, if we meet on the park chairs we are in a row not a circle, so discussion is hard.
So we set up a couple blankets out and walked around and told those hanging out on the benches that our discussion would taking place on the blankets and they are welcome to join us.
One older gentleman came almost 20 minutes early to talk, so we visited with him until 4pm. Another regular from worship arrived right on time and we began with prayer and Bible Study. We are looking at Psalm 133: "how wonderful it is when people live together in unity".
Pizza (from another store) arrived at 4:30 and we talked about how important eating is to creating community. We also discussed how to drink soda without cups! Six or so people from the surrounding seats came over to join us.
Debbie, a young African American woman who had been at worship for the first time this morning, accepted her pizza but would not sit down. "I don't want to be rude" she said "but how is this church helping the homeless any more than anyone else?"
Yes. How are we helping? I offered something about how we know we aren't providing housing or food, or the things people need the most. She offered other examples of things we don't do. I agreed.
I went on to share that we are distinctive--that we are outside, so people can drink or walk around, or take a break. That we remind people that God loves them before they get sober. That we welcome all people, including those that are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. I was at a loss of what else to say.
Diane spoke up "I'm an alcoholic, and today was the first time I felt like I could stay in church, because I was drunk when I came."
Dave said "I've been sober a long time, but I need to move around. I always come late."
James said "And you guys really listen to us."
Debbie pulled up some blanket and sat down. We continued with a discussion about what makes "unity" and what makes "community."
Then we moved on to the business of the meeting. We have $600 in our budget from the offering. How shall we spend that money?
Bus tokens, or bus passes.
What should we do for a donation? Abbey's house, Jeremiah's Inn, Rachel's Kitchen. No, someone hollers, I want us to do bus passes.
"Bus passes are for us. What do we want to do for other people?"
This description of our meeting sounds so organized. Can you tell that all this is happening at once? At the same time a guy rode up on a bike, hollered for one our participants, and was told to get out of here. Two people went off to smoke, one volunteered followed, and for a few minutes we had two discussion circles 12 feet apart. Someone complained that this can't be bible study if we don't have bibles, and another handed him the printout of Psalm 133 and said "this is about community". Someone else complained that Abbey's house and Jeremiah's Inn get government money, so we shouldn't help them.
Debbie called us all to attention. "I have an idea. How about we use the $60 that we give away to buy food for Abbey's House. Then we can meet a church in the area and make dinner for the women there. You know they have to get together and cook dinner for themselves every night."
"It's 10% of $600."
"I want bus passes."
"We can do that, too."
"Shall we do dinner for Abbey's House?"
"All in favor say 'aye'."
We passed the proposal just as lightening ran across the sky. "Someone pray us out." I said, "quickly!"
Brian prayed for the homeless everywhere, and for the women at Abbey's house. We handed out the last of the pizza and raced to our various places for shelter just as the drops poured from the sky.
I started my #wildgoose2021 road trip with the movie Coda. Hearing child of Deaf parents wants to be a singer. Great movie, and great start to my travels. It got me thinking about Deaf Bob--which is a stretch of epic proportions. Deaf Bob has nothing in common with this movie other than the fact that he was Deaf.
(For anyone squirming at the name “Deaf Bob”, let me assure you that it was his chosen moniker.)
Deaf Bob was a parishioner at Worcester Fellowship, the outdoor church for homeless and at risk adults. He and Tom taught me ASL and much more. They taught me to communicate with my Deaf neighbors using rudimentary signed english, a lot of repetition, and an ever present note pad. They emphasized that it is important to understand that Deaf culture is very direct. Bob says what he means without needing innuendo or words accompanied by a wink. I heard about sex and bowel movements and body pains that hearing folk simply do not generally discuss with their pastor.
When I would be embarrassed Deaf Bob would say, laughing, “Pastor Liz, it’s okay, we are Deaf. Deaf people talk like this. Relax!”
I’d love to tell you that I learned to relax. I did not. But I did learn the value of being direct.
As a a regular volunteer at St. John’s Food ministry on Temple Street, Deaf Bob was on obvious choice for the cooking team for our annual Sock Hop. He planned the menu, provided the grocery list, and guided, er, forcefully directed, the cooks. Early in the planning Bob came to me to ask what to do about Glen.
Glen was a helper—quick to volunteer, kind with everyone, and honest to a fault. He was also a little slow, didn’t speak clearly, and typically wasn’t very clean. Glen had a strong odor.
“I thought I’d encourage him to do set-up,” I explained to Deaf Bob.
“He wants to cook.”
“Well, you know,” I hedged and could see Bob getting impatient. “I don’t think he can cook.”
“He stinks. I’ll take care of it.” Bob was confident, I was nervous.
Later I saw the conversation. Away from the team, Deaf Bob invited Glen to join the cooking team. He then used signs and motions of requirements to be on the team. Bob demonstrated showering by putting soap on a wash cloth and washing under his arms, around his private parts, (thank you Jesus he remained clothed for this demonstration), and balancing on one foot, demonstrated scrubbing between his toes.
He rinsed off, Glen agreed to the terms, and started to turn away, but Deaf Bob pulled him back. He moved on to illustrate how to trim his beard, trim his nails, and even how to clean under the nails. I was becoming more and more nervous that Dave would be put off by this lesson, but he seemed entranced.
Sure enough, on the day of the event, Glen showed up in a clean shirt and jeans, a neatly trimmed beard and clean hands he presented to Bob for inspection. Deaf Bob went around to all the volunteers providing hair nets, beard coverings, and disposable gloves. No one was dissuaded by being asked to follow basic hygiene requirements!
During clean-up Glen came by and told me thanks. He had never been welcomed on the cooking team before, and loved the experience.
Deaf Bob died earlier this year. I hope he knows how much he helped me learn ministry.
MANNA (Many Angels Needed Now and Always) is a leadership organization working with people who do not have homes. Read more about MANNA in my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers. I recently attended their Monday worship at The Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston.
The quiet of MANNA's Monday Lunch provided respite for many after a night of protests for Black Lives Matter in Boston. Jennifer McCracken, the priest for this congregation, checked in with me frequently during lunch, but didn't have a minute to spare as one person after another wanted to share their stories with her. She knew, she understood, she was there. She looked tired as worship began.
We sat in a large circle, each chair six feet from the next, a couple chairs in the center, also appropriately distanced, and in front of the altar, two more chairs. The hand painted altar cloth was a little lopsided, and all the animals from Noah's ark had been carefully placed, along with Terry Dactyl, the plastic dinosaur, sitting on one arm of the cross. This is a time of pandemic; the Eucharistic elements were missing.
As worship progressed our group of six grew to ten or twelve, some sitting in the far corners of the sanctuary. Each person had a backpack or bag at their feet, the hosts at the back entrance offered hot lunch to the latecomers, along with hand sanitizer and masks. Outside the Cathedral's glass doors two more volunteers continued to offer bag lunches to people who didn't want to come inside.
Inside was a hushed. People talked, quietly, to others or themselves. The slouched shoulders expressed a sense of rest. The meal had been quiet, but tense, now we began to let out that tension, to share our unrest with God, to let go. The service is familiar and yet specific to the day.
“I love this Psalm,” Jennifer hands out a paper. “It's a lament. Today we are going to cry out with all of the pain of the racism, the violence, the pain of last night, and of our lives." Together we read the words of Psalm 13.”
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”
We sit a moment in the pain. Jennifer invites a parishioner to create a Gospel Alleluia and he does, mournfully, quietly, it fills the room. His head drops as he finishes.
Members of the congregation read the gospel, first in Spanish, then in English. Jennifer calls up a parishioner to preach. He is tall, dark, and devastated. He speaks in spurts, as if God fills him up, he pours it out, and then the next message arrives and gushes onto us. Struggling to hold his body in the chair, clenching his hands in frustration, wiping tears from his face, he preaches confidence God wants something different. As his message dies down Jennifer mentions the scripture we have read and he starts again, more words of God piling on us. Some us look away, I look away, it is so much pain, so much trust, so much power.
There is silence. There is peace that passes all understanding. We shuffle in our seats. We wait for the words to flow through us. We wait some more.
At lunch one of the volunteers told me to stay for worship. "They do a blessing that is amazing." I had no idea.
Jennifer begins by turning to her right, to the preacher, sitting there, and blesses him for his words. She encourages him to bless the woman to his right, and her to bless the man behind her. One by one, the priest naming each person in turn, we each bless the next. Everyone has some little contribution. Everyone is blesses; everyone is blessed. Over the physical distance required by the virus, we pull together in blessing. Over the spiritual distance required by our nation's racial divide, we pull together in blessing. Over the social distance separating people with homes from those without we pull together in blessing.
This is church.
For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.