Friday, May 14, 2010

Church on the Side

It kinda turns your concept or definition of "church" on the side.

That's what we do at this little building owned by the folks who own the one with the big steeple. First Presbyterian is one of downtown Portland's gems. The stone work and windows are great. But the gracious curving lines of the woodwork inside simply cannot be described in words. The grand organ is built right into the woodwork behind the altar.

But the organ wasn't new when the First Presbyterian folks bought it. They bought it used in San Francisco and had it shipped up here. Hmmmm...? Why was such a grand instrument on the market in the late 1800's anyway?

Be that as it may, Julia West House becomes church every Sunday evening at Operation Nightwatch worship. For over three years now, it's been church to a little corner of Portland's downtown folks. Folks like Fred (not his real name).

Fred used to live in Section 8 housing right across the street. He often brought his cheery personality and beaming face to our Sunday worship. Although this section of downtown Portland has half-size city blocks, Fred would not go to either corner to use the crosswalks. Instead, he'd step out the door of his building, listen for traffic, then point himself straight ahead and march right across two lanes of parking and two lanes of traffic to reach us at JWH.
I always worried that the driver of some quiet running Toyota Prius would not see Fred's white cane and be the death of him.
Fred suffered grievously from psoriasis. He suffered even more grievously from the bites of the bedbugs that he could not see. Repeated efforts to exterminate them never rid his building of them completely. Fred didn't rejoice in (or because of) his sufferings as Apostle Paul did. But he always found a way to rejoice and be thankful at worship.
Then, we no longer saw him. Weeks went by. Finally, we learned that he had moved (or been moved) to an apartment up in the hills, miles from downtown. I don't know where he is, so I can't go see him. I wonder if Fred has found a community there or if one has opened their eyes enough to find him. Can he step out his door, take a short walk and be greeted by name? Is he surrounded by people who will set down their backpacks to help him with a plate of food and a chair?
We can be surrounded by walls, covered with a roof and for sure not be houseless. But without a community, we can have secure shelter and still be homeless.
If the better definition of church is a community like the one Fred had at Operation Nightwatch, I sure hope he has found an equal or better one. And I pray that he has forever left those insufferable bedbugs behind.
Not that would be cause for rejoicing!
Prayers for Fred,

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