Sometimes a ministry of presence just doesn’t feel like enough. At the end of a raw and rainy day, when the clothes and the spirits of people living outdoors are dampened, I find myself wanting to bring everyone home to dry out with a bowl of chili in front of my woodstove. Or I question why people look forward to talking with “The Chaplains” when we don’t offer housing, food, a couch for a quick nap or any of the material things that people experiencing homelessness so desperately need.
But then I sit next to Jason, on the bench in front of our office, and he reminds me.
That happened last week, on a soft rainy evening as the sky began to darken. On the street in front of us, cars splashed by noisily or stopped at the light. On the sidewalk behind us, people walked by quickly on their way home from work, some carrying bags of groceries. Day after day, Jason sits on this bench in the midst of this busy city life. But like fish in a glass bowl, he has no access to it.
Jason has substance abuse disorder. In the past, that has made him persistently assertive when he feels confronted with injustice. And that behavior has caused him to be barred from seeking refuge or food in many of the places other people experiencing homelessness go. He is not welcome at the library, McDonalds, Dunkin Doughnuts, the overnight shelter and the dinner soup kitchen. I have accompanied Jason on several occasions as he meets authorities in these institutions asking them to reconsider. Unfortunately, we’ve not been successful. Now he struggles to maintain a newly earned sobriety in complete isolation.
I sat down with Jason last week after returning from dinner at the soup kitchen. We settled into some silence and then I said: “I don’t think God intends for us to go through hard times alone, Jason.”
“And that’s why you are sitting here, Becky “ he answered. “It means more to me than you know.”
Homelessness is a bandit and the first thing it robs people of is their sense of dignity and worth. Nothing grows in isolation, especially not sobriety. A ministry of presence, or spiritual companioning as we call it, invites us to show up to people wherever they are…on a bench, under a bridge, in a hospital, on a church stair…and to listen with the ear of our hearts. We accompany people through this crisis in their lives. We are witnesses to their struggle. And our hope is to mirror back the dignity and goodness we see in each person so that they, too, might get a glimpse of it in the fog of rejection and abandonment.
Last month, as we circled up on the side walk to pray our goodbyes to Rev. Tina Walker –Morin, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of how mutual our ministry really is. Again and again, people expressed their love to Tina and wished her the best of luck in her new ministry.
“May Tina’s new church love her as much as we do,” Jason prayed into the circle.
To give and receive love is the best of what being human is all about. I feel so blessed to be a part of this community, this ministry of presence, where the priority is on doing just that.
And for those of you who make this ministry possible….my gratitude is endless.
Rev. Rebecca Sheble-Hall
Executive Director & Chaplain