I am now over half way through my time with the ECS Downtown Safe Haven and I’ve got to know many of the residents there. On a Thursday night and Saturday daytime I show up, share a meal, conversation, go fishing – all ways in which to build relationships. Last Saturday I was pottering around the kitchen and dining room when Paul* came in and said “so I hear that you are training to become a priest”, we had met and exchanged a few words before but never really engaged in conversation. “Yes I am” I replied. “Then why are you here?” Paul asked. Now this may sound like a straight forward question when you read it here but at the time it was a little tricky to answer on the spot. “Well I’m here for a summer placement but actually I really want to be here as much as I can, I want to spend time outside of the church and experience God in all of the world”. “mmmm so you going to be a Catholic priest?” “Well not quite, Episcopal – but if you are used to the Catholic faith you would find that we do a lot of things in the same way, and we all believe in the same God” From the little that I knew of Paul I knew that he had a strong faith and attended a church on a regular basis “where do you worship?” I asked. “oh it’s a bible church that meets a few blocks from here, I’m new to the faith but I’m learning everything that the bible has to teach me. Let me ask you a question, why do you pray to Mary?”
The conversation continued as I tried (stumbling at times) to explain that the Episcopal tradition was different to the Catholic tradition but doing my best to convey Catholic theology in a clear and easy to understand way. We ended up talking for over an hour. I was clear that Paul had a desire to learn about my faith and it was also clear that we held differing views on some aspects of our faith. Despite this we found a common ground with Jesus at the center (exactly where he should be). I was keen to learn from his experience of faith and was humbled by the missional application of his living out of his faith in the world around him. As I was reflecting later on, we had differences in what we do inside of our churches and in some of our interpretations but we were united in the need to take Jesus out into the world and our to our call to servant hood.
As the conversation came towards a natural end I asked Paul if he would like to pray together. He wanted to, and so we sat with joined hands and the middle of the dining room and prayed. I felt blessed to have been able to join in Holy conversation with Paul and asked him to lead the prayers. The spirit was truly with us.
Jesus calls us into relationship with others. The Gospels are full of Jesus himself interacting with those around him. Calling strangers by name, engaging with all, with no one excluded. This is the model that we should follow. At times this will lead to direct questions about our faith, it can be scary to think that we don’t have the answer to every question but if we put our faith in Jesus then the answer will come, maybe not in the way we had hoped for but it will come one way or another.
Blake Barrow in his book Stories from the Shelter recalls a story of a man that came into his office at the homeless mission that he was running. The man had never really heard of Jesus and clutching a New King James bible asked Blake if this particular version of the bible told the stories about Jesus. He had heard that there were many different versions of the bible. Blake started off by giving him a bit of a history lesson about the King James translation but quickly realized that the man did not was an academic lesson on the finer aspects of a particular translation. Blake stopped what he was saying and sat down with the man and turned to the Gospel of Luke. “Lets start here with Luke, Luke tells the story of Jesus starting with his birth…….”. Sometimes, indeed often, we need to leave the classroom behind and just find Jesus. Thank you Paul for sharing how Jesus is so active in your life, I am proud and honored to be able to share in your journey of faith in the world in which we live in.
* Name changed