Monday, March 31, 2014

The Church and the Homeless Wanderer

I saw him from my office, right as I was suiting up in my robe and stole.  He was loping into the fellowship hall, long and lean and thickly dreadlocked, tagging along with a couple of church folks who'd put him up the last time he came through town.

He's homeless, and a wanderer, more or less by choice, drifting around the country on a heavily laden bicycle.  He's not entirely coherent all of the time, but also not negative or aggressive, and rather good company in a shamanic sort of way.  Ah, thought I, recalling the last time I'd chatted with him, when we shared soup and a conversation together. That conversation had been spiritual, wild and rambly, but spiritual.   I anticipated--with some pleasure--an interesting and free-ranging conversation at fellowship hour.

By the time I got into the sanctuary, he was there, sitting with the church family that was hosting him for a few days during a spring of snows and icy slop from the sky, a family that included my liturgist for the day.

I wandered over to say hello to him, as the minutes ticked by before the service was to begin.  He remembered me, and we chatted for a bit.  Then the liturgist asked if I would mind, if it would be OK, if it would be alright with me if their guest read the scriptures in worship.

Well, hum.  

I processed for half a second, my cortex running risk assessment and probability subroutines.  It's a Presbyterian compulsion, I suppose.  Likelihood of an awkward fifteen minute pulpit excursus into Rastafarianism and the influence of the Global Illuminati?  Fourteen point two percent.  Nonzero, but also unlikely.

Then I said, "Sure."  I mean, really.  Why not?  Live a little.  If you have a worship in your home, and a guest is willing to participate, why wouldn't you invite them to be a part of it?  Seemed like a no-brainer.  We Presbyterians struggle with no-brainers, but we're working on it.

And so with a minute to go before worship, he and I went up to the pulpit.  I asked if he wanted to use his bible, and he said he'd rather use the big one in the pulpit.  Good thinking, I said.

So I showed him the texts, and where they were.  I explained how we do responsive readings.  He listened intently, and asked questions, and seemed eager to participate in the worship.

So when the time came for the first reading, up came the wanderer, long and lean and thickly dreadlocked.  He took us through the responsive reading of Psalm 23, and then read through the first seventeen verses of John 9.

Then he went back to the pew, and sat.  I gave him a thumbs up, and he smiled.  And that was that.

When I preached on John and the blind beggar and the Pharisees, on the importance of not assuming that any condition of life should be judgmentally attributed to sinfulness or spiritual flaw?  When I said that it was important that we really see and be in encounter with the souls around us?  

It felt like it bore more weight, somehow.

You know, because it was something real.