It’s Wednesday night, at the courtyard at the Episcopal Church Center in Ocean Beach…
The time for the Eucharistic service was fast approaching, 5:30…and we were scurrying to set up the altar, the chairs , distribute bulletins and invitations, find volunteer readers in “the congregation” …
The congregation of The Right Here, Right Now Church…the congregation of people gathered outside the locked courtyard gates ….waiting to see someone in the clinic, waiting to get in line for the Wednesday night supper, waiting to pick through some clothes and shoes offered on a table in the courtyard…And some, when invited, were waiting for the services to begin.
Some were waiting just to have a place to sit down other than the street…waiting to lay down, other than in a doorway or alley, or behind bushes hidden from those wishing they weren’t in front of their businesses or homes. Because then, they were fully visible: the homeless, hungry, sick, the exhausted; exhausted from keeping always on the move. Because then, when fully visible, those businesses owners and home owners had to deal with their own sense of shame, their own selfishness.
This particular Wednesday evening was lighter than usual…a few remarked, “It’s been lighter these last few Wednesdays for the dinner too.” It’s now against the law to sleep on the street, or doorways. Now, tickets are issued, to those found sleeping in public places, people are “moved along”, their belongings thrown away. Some say that’s why. Others say there are other places to go on Wednesday night.
This particular Wednesday evening, after the gates were finally opened,and our service began, a small, slow-moving woman came in and laid on the bench closest to the gate. She covered herself up to her chin with a worn blanket, and was shivering, as if from a fever. We came by and offered her communion…but she wasn’t able to take it…she thanked us for offering…but she seemed almost too weak to lift her head.
Later I saw the priest who officiated at the service anoint her, pray with her, and gently pull the blanket up to her shoulders, bringing a small amount of comfort to her.
And it occurred to me; we are embroiled in heated rhetoric, spending money, time and energy over securing sanctuary cities for the undocumented immigrants coming into our country; and with those same voices, with the same money, using their energies to keep our homeless, poor and sick on the streets away, dislodged, and without sanctuary- except at places like the ECC; and even then, the gate is locked until WE are ready to let them in.
Prayer 35 in Book of Common Prayer: ” Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy.”
Can we be strong enough to say, “Here we are LORD; at your service. Send us to care for them…to heal their brokenness, with your love and comfort”?
Maybe the first step is to pray, “Unlock the gates of our hearts LORD. Help us to offer them sanctuary there, where your healing love and light resides”. Amen.