She has an email pen pal – a homeless man with whom she corresponds from time to time. In her most recent correspondence with him, she asked him if he has heard of our “church without walls,” and he said that he has.
My friend then wrote, “What have you heard about it?”
His answer was simple: “Nothing bad.”
Nothing bad. That, I think, was a compliment of sorts. Brings to mind the call for physicians to do no harm.
My sense is that this fellow’s experiences with the churches he encounters are none too friendly. That doesn’t surprise me. Our churches often are not very kind to folks on the street. We mean to be kind, helpful even, but we are not very comfortable with the idea of co-existing with folks who are deeply impoverished and often troubled,* much less of existing in true community with one another.
This morning I led a retreat for vestry members of two small parishes. Today we tend to think of a “parish” as one of our Episcopal churches, but one of the retreat attendees had an excellent observation. “Your ministry calls to mind our Anglican roots. It reminds me that in the Church of England years ago, parish referred to an entire area.” I loved hearing this reminder that a parish includes not just a physical church facility and the people who associate with it, but rather it encompasses a geography — a number of square miles — and all who reside there.
Everyone belongs to God. And we are called to serve those in our midst.
*Of note, Florida ranks 50th in the nation in funding for mental health, and Duval County, which is home to this ministry, is the poorest funded county in the Florida.