Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor
I’d like to tell you a little about my friend George. Truth is I don’t know as much about him as I want to or will know; but he is an interesting guy, and always eager to talk. He is a good conversation partner, remarkably polite, and kind and gentle. George reads the Bible every day, even as he studies for the nursing program in which he is enrolled at the Community College, both texts carefully highlighted.
Now George has really appreciated the welcome he has received at our Thursday Meal and More, and he has expressed his gratitude many times. He has even said the blessing before the meal on a Thursday when I was at an-other meeting. He is homeless for now. And he has been looking for a place to worship on Sunday mornings since the church he’s been attending is having some internal strife at the moment.
So George showed up at St. Paul’s one Sunday morning. I sorely wish I had realized the need and found a way to let everyone know that George, based on all I know about him, is not a threat to anyone. Instead, he is a blessing to be around.
But, I completely understand why some people, not knowing anything at all about George, got anxious when he came into the Sanctuary, late for the service, through the pulpit side door that hardly anyone ever uses, wearing a big coat with camouflage, and carrying a bag. Given the times in which we live and ample justification for caution around strangers, poor George unwittingly checked off a number of boxes on the suspicious character checklist.
I am grateful – as I know others were also – that Ben paid attention to him in a way that was welcoming to George and also comforting to those made anxious by George’s presence.
Yes, we do live in an age when caution is necessary, a certain amount of vigilance even. These are times in which anxiety runs high. It could hardly be otherwise; we are bombarded by news stories of gunmen shooting up schools and churches and malls and concerts. How can we do anything but feel vulnerable in the world at this point?
So there are conversations happening about how we can maintain as much safety as possible around the church, whether for Sunday services or any of the other activities that happen here throughout each week. Toward that end, an Emergency Preparedness Task Force is actively exploring and implementing options to make us as safe as we can be relative to strangers, fire, health-related incidents, and whatever else has impact on safety.
Yet at the same time, we are a church – indeed we are THE church – that aspires to welcome everyone, no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey. And we have together managed to live up to that aspiration even when that has required making special accommodations. We have not wavered. And I am so grateful for that, believing with all my heart and mind that that is the right stance for us to take. As we make our way through our conversations, we will pay keen attention to the balance between basic safety and broad welcome. And we will keep in mind that there is a line across which we become a church that is altogether different than we say we are and hope to be.
For what it’s worth, there has been conversation about how being the church we are sets us apart from the others and perhaps opens us to more risk. I suspect that is theoretically true, though there is thus far no evidence to support that claim. I would say that homeless people, whom we treat well and with whom we generally have good relationships, are not our biggest worry if they are a worry at all. While there may be homeless individuals with issues that can play out in unsettling ways, there is by no means a systematic intent among homeless people to harm us in any way. Not to go all biblical here, but we can think back on Jesus’ life that was lived among the homeless people of his day – as a homeless person of his day, among the outcasts, among the least of these. And we can find in the stories of homeless people stories that are more like our own than we might care to imagine, with the difference being maybe one bad decision or a bad break.
No doubt there are some simple things we can do to lessen safety risks. And, rest assured, we will do those things. And that is critical to our life together. Ultimately, though, we are vulnerable people wherever we are in the world – driving cars, crossing the street, walking in the forest, sitting in our living rooms, wherever. That’s life. No matter how hard we try and what we do to hunker down, we will never completely eliminate risk. Alternatively, we can embrace life as fully as possible, reach out toward others and strangers, and see if we can collaborate in some way to make a better world. We are undoubtedly stronger together.