(From March 2008)
I'm praying for Serena. I miss her when she doesn't stop by for Church.
Serena is among the most helpful of our volunteers. She will hand out bulletins or read one of the readings, she preaches during our open sermon, and prays during prayers of the people, she makes sure everyone gets a sandwich before she takes extra, and looks for gloves for people who don't have them.
Serena and her husband have housing: a rented room in one of Worcester's walk-up apartments. They've been homeless in the past and pray for people who are homeless every week.
A middle aged hispanic woman, her husband looks on adoringly as she goes on and on about how well she is doing staying sober this time. Serena tells us about her collection of figurines, about her job, about the church she attends Sunday mornings, about what she is reading, about her roommates, and who she talked to yesterday, and the day before. She takes one of everything we offer, and returns the favor by bringing us gifts--tracts and pamphlets from other churches, crosses, greeting cards, pens and the advertising tokens. In the year we have known her, Serena has gotten sober 4 or 5 times, the last time for almost 3 months.
Early on she only came to church if she was sober. She'd miss a week and then explain the next that she had had a little problem. We always respond: you are always welcome, no matter what. She smiles, and misses church again two weeks later.
Serena prays for sobriety, for a recovery program that will take someone with mental illness, for something to do at night when her brain is racing, for a re-connection with her 20 year old daughter. She gives praise for a landlord who lets her do chores for pay, for a good afternoon singing, for how wonderful her daughter is, and her husband, and for the leaders of Worcester Fellowship. She preaches on the how wonderful Jesus is, and comes each week with new news about learning to read the bible.
A few weeks ago I met her before worship. She was hollering words I couldn't understand.
"What is it?" I finally interjected in a way she could hear me.
"The police", she sobbed, "they are after me. They just keep threatening me." She could barely stand up and her breath was strong with alcohol.
I hugged her as she sobbed. "They took my husband. He's no good. They took him and now I'm homeless. Can you believe it? I'm homeless and the police want me."
"I'm heading up to worship, come on up."
"I'm drinking. I can't."
"You are always welcome at worship, Serena."
She continued non-stop until we got up the table, already set-up for worship. She turned to share her story with another frequent participant, and I turned to help Bill practice his reading. When worship started, I looked around and once again, she was gone.
Last Sunday Serena came to worship late, disheveled, and drunk. I came around and hugged her, and she sobbed.
"I'm glad you came," I tell her. "You are always welcome here, even when you are drinking."
She cries some more.
But she was there. She was there at worship. I'm praying for Serena.
(From Aug. 11th, 2008)
An early leadership meeting. Our pizza place is closed for the summer, so we've been meeting picnic style on the common. Its not optimum, some people are uncomfortable on the ground, if we meet on chairs we are in a row not a circle, so discussion is hard.
So we set up a couple blankets out and walked around and told those hanging out on the benches that our discussion would taking place on the blankets and they are welcome to join us.
One older gentleman came almost 20 minutes early to talk, so we visited with him until 4pm. Another regular from worship arrived right on time and we began with prayer and Bible Study. We are looking at Psalm 133: "how wonderful it is when people live together in unity".
Pizza arrived at 4:30 and we talked about how important eating is to creating community. We also discussed how to drink soda without cups! Six or so people from the surrounding seats came over to join us.
Debbie, a young african american woman who had been at worship for the first time this morning, accepted her pizza but would not sit down. "I don't want to be rude" she said "but how is this church helping the homeless any more than anyone else?"
Yes indeed. How are we helping? I asked myself this question!
I offered something about how we know we aren't providing housing or food, or the things people need the most.
She offered other examples of things we don't do.
I went on to share that we ARE distinctive--that we are outside, so people can drink or walk around, or take a break. That we remind people that God loves them before they get sober. That we welcome all people, including those that are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender, that we welcome people who are still using, that we welcome people with a past history of crimes.
As I was struggling to find something else to say about what we offer Diane spoke up "I'm an alcoholic, and today was the first time I felt like I could stay in church, because I was drunk when I came."
Dave said "I've been sober a long time, but I need to move around. I always come late."
James said "And you guys really listen to us."
Debbie paused, and then pulled up some blanket and sat down.
So Psalm 133: "how wonderful it is when people live together in unity". What would that look like here at Worcester Fellowship? And the dis
A friend recently told me about a dream he had. He was pulled over by a very nice police officer who proceeded to give him three tickets. All three of them were for things he had NOT done. And then he woke up.
"What stood out," my friend explained, "was how very kind the police officer was. I couldn't figure out what to do with the unfair tickets, because the guy was so nice."
Yeah. I began to wonder about my insistence that God is loving.
Imagine for a minute that you believe that God is in control of the universe; that all that happens is perhaps caused by God, or at least that God is ok with it. And then you get three, or six, or twenty-eight hard things added to your life. Ordinary bad things: illness, being laid off from your job, losing a loved one, an accident, your things are stolen.
And then imagine some do-gooder pastor comes by and says "God is love". What on earth does that mean? How does that fit with what you just experienced? Wouldn't it be easier to imagine that God is judgmental, angry, or mean?
If I were to get three unfair tickets while driving I'd really want them to come from someone I could describe as rude, angry, and mean. I especially don't want to be treated unfairly by someone who seems fair, considerate, and kind. I want to rant and rage and demand justice. I certainly don't want someone to tell me that this unfairness is just.
What do you think?
(originally posted by Liz August 22, 2008.)
The forecast was for rain, and the clouds certainly were dark. It's a first Sunday and that often means low attendance. I was late for morning church and and then late to Worcester Fellowship. All in all, a start that did not prepare me for a wonderful day.
Despite the forecast, the sun was out, the wind was warm, and lots of people were present. We had cheeseburgers for lunch! Both St. John's and St. Andrews brought lots of palms. Several of our "regulars" who had been inside due to rain last week, and cold the week before, and who had this pressure and that to deal with, they were back at Worcester Fellowship. It was like "old-home day".
We marched to "we are marching in the light of God", parading around the common like the fools that we are. Occupy Worcester folk turned their head and smiled, waiting for us to finish our song so they could continue to meet. Six folk from our congregation and one youth from Yarmouth, Maine, took part in the reading of the passion story. We had silent prayer after the woman anointed Jesus, and prayers after Peter denied Jesus. And then a delightful reflection on how appropriate it is to look at the passion on April Fools day, how foolish all those actions are, how foolish we all are, to follow this faith, this foolish faith that trusts that no matter what, love wins out.
At the peace I foolishly interrupted the occupy worcester discussion, several folk turned as I whispered and signed "peace". At the Eucharist I foolishly misplaced the bread, but not the love that is communicated in the sharing of the body and blood, the brokenness and the forgiveness.
And then we handed out Palms at the 701 Main Street shelter, where we were called foolish for confusing public and religious spaces. And we handed out Palms at the hospital atrium, where people grinned at our audacity, and a man wearing a Johnny and sitting in a wheel chair put down his coffee to grab our hands and say thanks.
The passion story certainly calls for rain and dark clouds. But somehow it was good news this week. Foolishly good news.