One of the hardest things about writing this blog is that some of the more trans-formative experiences that I have gained during my time with ECS involve very personal encounters with people who I have met. In some cases I have been able to change names but for other encounters that did not seem appropriate. I had one such encounter on Independence Day and so I write this blog post without details but I ask that you read along with me knowing that a very significant encounter occurred.
For a number of reasons I decided that I wanted to spend part of my Independence Day with the residents of ECS’s Downtown Safe Haven (DTSH). It was one of the best decisions that I have made in a long time. Residents took time and pride in organizing a BBQ at the house. One resident used up her last food stamps to buy ingredients to make a cake, an act of generosity that made my day. For some of the residents it was a time to see family, and for some others a time to feel the pain of being away from family.
The occasion also gave me time to talk to some people at the house during the day time – often when I’m at the house on a Saturday day time folk have things to do: work, classes, visiting or just being out of the house. I found myself talking to one resident. The conversation started as light conversation, went deeper, emotions opened up, feelings and fears came flooding out. Of course I didn’t have all of the answers but I could listen and I could be present. Ultimately we could join hands in the presence of the Holy Spirit and be held in prayer.
In the hit TV show ‘The Big Bang Theory” Sheldon is famous for making his presence at his neighbors door known. Standing in-front of Penny’s apartment he knocks loudly and repeats her name three times ‘Penny, Penny, Penny.’ No one is left in any doubt of Sheldon’s presence. How often do we extend the gift of presence? To be there for someone, without judgement of who they are or what they bring to the moment? We do not have to knock loudly like Sheldon does, in fact often it is better that we don’t even announce our presence at all. The Gospels are heaving at the seams with Jesus being present. He enters into relationship with his family, the disciples, he teaches in the temple. But it does not stop there, he enters in relationship with the poor, the gentile, the sinner, the tax collector, the prostitute.
The encounter that I had on July Fourth came out of the blue and I believe that God placed me that day exactly where he needed me to be at. I do believe that if we are to be a truly serving church that we need move beyond our traditional boundaries. Don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting abandoning the faithful but if we are to fully answer the call of Matthew 25:45
‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
then we must be present in areas where most people would prefer not to go.
Whilst we are on the journey of getting there I rejoice in the work of organizations such as the Episcopal Community Services and Father Joe’s Village for the ministry of presence that they live each and every day.
Maybe tomorrow I will be present for someone at work or at the coffee shop. I may not even realize the gift of my presence, but that is not important because I’m not being present for me. Maybe it is a conversation, or even a hug but it could just be a smile.
Sheldon may say “Penny, Penny, Penny” I hope that I have the grace to say “Brother, Sister, Everyone”.