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?