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Church on the street: Don’t be afraid to ‘put out into the deep’

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  • September 17, 2018

In a remote fishing village, the people became accustomed to the pounding of the heavy seas which imperiled every boat leaving their harbour, but they never could become accustomed to the deaths. The deaths of fishermen caught in the grip of an uncompromising ocean in the dead of night. 

One day the village decided to buy a lifeboat and ensure that it was available for the call of distress. Volunteers were plentiful and money was raised to build a social club to which fishermen could be brought upon rescue. One evening an argument erupted in the club. “Why should we allow the fishermen to come in after being rescued? They smell, they are wet and dirty, they damage much of the carpeting.” It had become more important to talk of saving fishermen than to risk their lives to save them.

Jesus said to Peter, “Put out into the deep.” There is a danger that our Church is losing its desire to put out into the deep. We would rather stand in shallow, safe waters and shout to those who are drowning, “We are over here. If you can reach us we will save you.” 

I was thinking of this while I was walking downtown on a humid summer evening and suddenly the heavens opened up and a deluge flooded the streets. I was wishing that I had followed the lead of Noah, who believed the weather forecast of God when he heard, “Make an ark, I am going to bring floodwaters on the Earth.” 

However, there I was with only my “clericals” and rather porous shoes to protect me. Perhaps it was stupidity, or else thinking of the words of Jesus to Peter, that made me decide that I was as wet as I was going to get and there were many more on the street who did not have the choice I had to drive home to a nice dry house. 

As I passed a bus shelter I saw a woman standing with a lighter and some crack cocaine in her hand. “How are you?” I asked. “You were smart to get in out of the rain.”

Her face was gnarled with drug use and age, but it broke into an inviting smile as she moved towards me. “You know, you are the first person who has spoken to me, who has cared enough to ask how I am. Why can’t we at least acknowledge one another?”

Without waiting for an answer, she launched unbidden into her spiritual heritage, interspersed with her theological reflection on the events of her 45 years. 

“I am from a Greek family with five priests in it, so I know the Bible well. I read it a lot and I believe in God, especially because of Jesus. He has been through all the abuse I’ve taken and all the stuff that I have endured. He understands me, and He was in jail like me. Even when I am smoking the hard stuff I feel He is there with me. Weird isn’t it? When I was at school, another girl and I thought about becoming nuns, but we smoked. Do you think that would stop us being nuns?” 

I tentatively suggested that perhaps the hard stuff she is smoking now would be more of a deterrent to following that calling. 

“You know something?” She was on a roll now and did not stop for breath. “On the street we look after one another. It is not the rich people who help me, but the poor who help one another. Strange, isn’t it? It was when I was in jail the doctors finally realized I needed medication. That has helped, and now I am at CAMH to get over my addiction. The mornings are the worst. Pray for me in the mornings, please pray.”

So, there in the depths of the downpour, the depths of the evening, the depths of hope and despair, I did something I seldom do on the street before I pray. I look her in the eyes and I asked, “Can I give you a hug?” After embracing I prayed for her and gave her a blessing on the forehead. 

“I can’t explain it, but I feel better even with that blessing,” she whispered, “but please continue to pray for me, especially in the morning.”

I slipped my “Church on the Street” business card into her hand and asked her to call me.

 And then she was gone. Like two ships passing in the storm. 

(Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto: robert.kinghorn@ekinghorn.com)

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