Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"I Don't Want the Body of Christ!"

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a training on pastoral care in the context of outdoor ministry among our homeless neighbors. It was basically Pastoral Care and Counseling 101, but it's always good to brush up. I really enjoyed the stories folks shared about things they did to help their homeless neighbors that they didn't know would be helpful but that actually made a big difference in their lives. My friend, Lane, went to a service of the Cambridge Outdoor Church on Sunday and had a similar experience. He wrote about it on Facebook. Here is his witness:

Every Sunday afternoon Rev. Jedediah Mannis, Episcopal deacon Pat Zifcak and volunteers with The Outdoor Church hold a worship service on the Cambridge Common, within sight of Harvard Square and my church, Harvard-Epworth United Methodist. Anyone can join, but the brief liturgy and Communion are meant for street folks.

The Outdoor Church provides sandwiches, juice, water, socks and toiletries for the homeless as well. A group from Harvard-Epworth takes monthly turns with other congregations for Saturday food handouts to Harvard Square and Central Square. Jed and others do the walk-arounds on Sunday -- after worship. The Outdoor Church is first of all what it says it is -- a church, for some of the most broken jars of clay in God's kingdom. The homeless men and women offer the prayer requests. The week's Gospel lectionary is usually read by Chris, a bearded, middle-aged man who's considerably better-educated than his appearance might suggest.

Jed, who's a United Church of Christ minister, had just begun the Communion liturgy when Sunshine arrived. I'd met Sunshine the day before, when a young-adult couple and I did the Harvard Square handout. Sunshine is slender, with dark blonde hair. If he were healthy, not high or hung over and sultry instead of truculent, he'd have looked like a fashion-ad surfer dude. Sitting on the brick pavilion away from everyone else, head lowered, he looked like he'd just wandered over from wherever he'd slept the night before.

As Jed blessed the Communion juice and wafers, Sunshine murmured, "Jesus wouldn't do this." Moments later, Pat took the elements to those sitting along the curved stone pavilion bench, and then to Sunshine.

"I don't want the Body Of Christ!" he snapped. "I want something to eat."

"We'll get to that," Pat said. Others were still waiting for Communion as much they were for the sandwiches they knew would follow the benediction. But Sunshine stood up and stalked away.

A few minutes later he was back. He took a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches and a drink like everyone else, and wolfed down the first sandwich as he walked off, without saying a word.

Jed wasn't fazed. He's seen such behavior and worse many times, at services as well as on the walk-arounds. Sharing food for soul and body is the point, not compliments, and a lot of people like Sunshine show up again some Sunday later on.

"You never know how they're going to remember this," Jed said.

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