Winter is finally over! The winter-that-would-not-end brought record amounts of snow to the Boston area and made life really inconvenient for most of us. However, for people living in the shelters or outside in Waltham, this winter was particularly grueling and even dangerous.
Many of the places our friends rely on for warm refuge during the day were inconsistently open due to school closings and driving restrictions that affected staffing. There were days when both the Waltham Public Library and the Salvation Army, which serves breakfast and lunch, were closed. Then there were the days when the sidewalks weren’t shoveled. People had to walk in the streets to get from one temporary resting spot to the next while bracing themselves against the spray of passing snowplows. Wet socks, frigid temperatures, hunger, and exhaustion made for an oppressive winter for our congregation.
And… it was a tough winter to witness as spiritual companions. Desirée and I made the commitment early on to do our best to show up in Waltham on our days of ministry, despite the wintery road conditions. Sometimes the weather was so bad only one of us could make it. Once in a while, we made adjustments to our day—if we arrived an hour late at McDonald’s we would make the decision to skip breakfast at the Salvation Army. And our efforts to show up at McDonald’s were always rewarded. Every time we walked through the door “A” gifted us with a joyous hug, the offer to sit with her and join her and others in an open and vulnerable conversation.
At times, during this harsh winter, I struggled with the feeling that perhaps our ministry of presence was not enough, given the crushing physical conditions our congregation was experiencing. For that reason, it came as a relief when we were able to successfully connect two individuals to housing and mental health resources that got them off the street, or when we facilitated communication between the city authorities and our community on how to help those in need during emergency situations.
The lesson we learned this winter was that “just showing up,” offering love, and reminding folks they are not invisible—nor forgotten because of some snow—can be life-sustaining. Spiritual companionship is holy and hopeful work. We see our congregants offering it to each other and we feel blessed when they receive it from us as well.
“I can’t believe you are really doing this,” said “J,” as we walked together down a snowy street. “I mean you have other places you can be,” he said, as we scaled a snow bank before entering the Community Day Center.
“Nope,” I said, as I walked through the door he held open for me, “I’m just where I need to be, and very glad of it.”
by Chaplain Rebecca Sheble-Hall