We met today as we do every Sunday in the back of day shelter serving people experiencing homelessness. Some came straight from the streets; others from their homes. Some of those praying quietly in the time before the service began had never been homeless. Others had been off the streets for only a month or two. Danny was there this morning. Though the buses by his place don’t begin running until after our church starts, Danny was one of the first people there. “Sometimes, I just have to camp out,” he says to me. And then, in an apologetic murmur he continues, “Sorry, Sister, I left my harmonica at home.” Danny plays a mean harmonica.
A few more people dribble in–Rosa and Amy and Juan. Stan strides in (he always walks with a determined grace) and takes his place in the far back corner. Mountain Man is there seated at the table–his heavy pack resting against his leg. And Billy too. Drawing at a table near the front. Two people from St. Michael’s, an Episcopal church that has supported us from the start, take front row seats. They seem to understand that to receive fully the welcome this congregation of people who live on the streets and people who live in houses has to offer they need to dive right in.
To each person I hand a pen and a blank card. I ask them to write down the blessings in their lives. I know the lists will be long, for this is a congregation that knows themselves to be blessed. Often the response I hear to the question, “How are you?” is “Blessed–I am blessed.” Some even add, “And highly favored.” We start the service as we always do with the words of the psalmist, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Today, though our numbers are low, the voices are strong. There’s conviction in those words.
As we sing our gathering song, I remember I’ve left the scripture reading at home. Before the opening prayer, I ask if anyone has a Bible. Several people raise their hands. I take the biggest Bible and hand to Andy whose come back from a year away. I point to the passage and slow down the service so he can have time to look it over before he reads. We say the prayers, then Andy stands and begins to read. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love….”
I collect the cards and start my sermon by asking if folks have been following the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. Oh they have. They know who our women beat and how. They know the score. I ask, “Did you see the parade–the ticker-tape parade?” I continue, “A part of me wants to have a ticker-tape parade of blessings right here in this room. Imagine all the blessings falling on us. The floor would be covered and so would we.” But I know my head would be served up on a platter if I made a mess like that. So I ask the people gathered in worship to imagine themselves at a parade of blessings and then I read the blessings people have written:
“I would like to thank our Lord jesus Christ for holding on to me when the going gets rough”
“Community–this congregation, connection with old friends, support on my spiritual journey, rain and green, the Bosque, Women’s group”
“A new apartment, contact with my daughter through Facebook, a wonderful caseworker and a wonderful therapist, being on meds that improve my mood and help me not to be depressed, contact with my brother, contact with my cousin, a safe place to live alone where I can have peace and quiet”
“Family, generosity, community, sunrise, moisture, rain, mountain”
“Waking up this morning, the Lord still working on me, still having family”
“I’m happy for this to live”
“My husband and family, my health”
“God’s light and good friends at all sides, good family and good times”
“My God, my family, my journey, my wish coming true, everybody knowing my real family, my new house, wife, job, kid”
“The loving people around me”
“Family, church, friends, home”
“Jesus, salvation, Holy Spirit, food and water, peoples, flowers, ability to think, to know good and bad, mountains, seas, air food, drink, rain, a beginning and end, good deeds, tortillas, frijoles, enchiladas, heat, refrigeration, peace, trails….”
“A new morning, this church, my family, friends, freedom to worship, gift of music, rain/moisture”
“Jesus, family, friends, truck(options to do many things)”