Our city councilman and the mayor were leaving the coffee shop where our woman’s spirituality group meets weekly. We waved hello, introduced ourselves, and thanked them for working on behalf of people who are homeless. While the mayor needed to hurry off, the councilman stayed a bit longer to talk briefly about ways to address this issue.
He didn’t know about Judy’s ministry at a downtown parish, which uses a covered patio every night to shelter 15 people who are homeless. Volunteers offer three meals and run the outreach.
The councilman hadn’t heard of Family Promise, a rotating shelter that includes our parish and another church in his district. The nonprofit helps families who are homeless by allowing them to sleep in our facilities and then to spend time at a downtown day center. My friend Connie and I volunteer, along with hundreds of others at a dozen congregations in the city. I love serving as “concierge” for our guests overnight. My husband and I always seem to have a great night’s rest on the youth center couches.
“This is how God works,” the councilman said. It was no accident, he believed, that a scheduling conflict meant that he and the mayor needed to change from meeting downtown to “our” coffee shop. I felt surprised that he gave God credit for this serendipitous encounter with us. Others might call it coincidence. He was unashamed to thank God for running into us.
It was as if God wanted his path to intersect with ours, he said, because we were working already on the very ideas he and the mayor were discussing. How can we collaborate, cooperate, and form stronger, healthier communities?
In order to be effective, charity must be organized, said St. Vincent de Paul, who called the poor “our masters.” It’s a bit of an archaic reference, and I might say a “preferential option for the poor,” intending something similar. The coffee shop became a venue for organizing ministry to people in need.
As the councilman left, I also thanked God, who works for justice through people who are paying attention. I felt grateful that we hadn’t hesitated to greet these elected officials as they passed our table, whether we all voted for them or not. I’m reminded of other times when God called me to be at the right place at the right time. To quote a friend, “It wasn’t odd; it was God.”
Putting ourselves in the right place may include a public display of our faith, such as our small group’s faith-based books amidst the dishes on the coffee-shop table. We meet for an hour weekly to discuss a spiritual selection, to share stories, and to pray for and with one another. Sometimes the server makes a U-turn when she sees our bowed heads. Using a restaurant means none of us must clean house, borrow a key from a rectory, or make excuses when we need to leave as soon as the agreed-upon hour is up.
Maybe you can start a group like this in your neighborhood. Loyola Press has lots of great books to choose from and to give you a framework for meeting. 2020: A Book of Grace-Filled Days by Amy Welborn is one great option.
Who knows how God will use you to open a door to a stronger and more organized community in your neighborhood?
I shared your suggestion with Valerie and we looked at the Family Promise website. Amazingly her attorney for Keys for the Homeless was in the same law firm as the Chairperson Family Promise. He has introduced Valerie (and Keys for the Homeless) to the new CEO of Family Promise and they will speak soo!.Your groups prayers are being heard!
What will happen next is a MYSTERY but the possibility of a conversation with Family Promise – born of your blog post and your suggestion to learn more about their work, has brought JOY to Valerie – and her spouse and adult children. Thank you – and keep praying. We owe you and your group a cup of coffee! Rob
Thank you for your prayer group’s help and for the suggestion I will share it. Reaching out in many directions. This model works in any (city in the world) that has hotels or universities, high schools or parish’s (e.g. Georgetown U. & Trinity Parish in D.C. have been a part of the work for years). Keep writing, your parables are inspiring.
I am thankful Rich Koppes sent this reflection on to us board members of Family Promise of Sacramento. The Holy spirit shines through your writing inspiring my soul. The divine is present in all situations, in all of life if we are but aware. You help to remind me to be aware.
Great inspirational piece that I plan to share with my entire Family Promise Board (helping homeless families),
and it reminds us of the need for action in implementing Gospel values. Thank you Loretta!
An interesting reflection indeed-encouraging people of Faith to “take the step” in service to the poor. My spouse is such a person having founded an organization called Keys for the Homeless in Washington DC. Her enterprise which consists of herself, a part-time person to do “pick-ups” with his truck, secures “gently used” clothing, bedding, personal items which are donated by the hospitality industry amd are then carefully, lovingly distributed to 60 or so low income communities and homeless shelters throughout the city and region.Her primary donors pf getly used goods (linens, beds, bathrobes, toiletries ect.) are the hotels in the community. In 2019 the value of those goods exceeded on-half million dollars and were distributed to a great many individuals. She receives funding from a few generous foundations in the community who value this work and in spite of her desire to “retire” from this effort – they keep funding her efforts and encouraging her to keep going.. She is in the sixth decade of her life, has suffered a heart attack five years ago, is the mother of six now-grown children and two grandchildren and for the past couple of years has been seeking a larger non-profit to “adopt” both her donors and client recipient organizations but alas no takers-yet. The alternative for her is simply to stop the work. Might I ask your prayer group to pray that she discerns God’s voice in making a difficult choice to “retire” from this more than full time work for the poor. For you see, it is very difficult to say to God – I am done. keysforthehomeless.org
I will get our group on it! You can rely on our prayers.
Discernment can be tricky! Your wife’s work sounds like it blesses many, many people, but there comes a time when a change is necessary. I looked at Valerie’s website and the work is very impressive. I wonder if she might like to check out FamilyPromise.org?
Very nice food for thought and action. Thanks Loretta. When I was homeless and a stranger, you welcomed me – says the Lord.
Such a good reminder of the way God works through ordinary people to inspire us and bring about change. Reminds me to never shy away from expressing my faith in public whenever I have the opportunity.
Some great thoughts in this article. When we meet socially in a public setting we become more aware that we are part (a vital part) of a wider community. We may see people we know and we can say g’day and, if the conversation turns to our group, we can explain why we are meeting. Not only that, a social occasion in a public place brings us individually closer and this can relieve pressure in our ministries. We find out we are not just the person who fulfills a particular role in the ministry but someone who likes reading biographies or bird-watching, etc. Another flawed and wonderful human loving God, in other words.
So true! And each person in our group connects us to their circle of influence, so connections grow to strengthen our community.