A snowy evening can have some surprising encounters. Photo by Andre Furtado

Robert Kinghorn: Numbers can’t measure the blessings of street

By 
  • April 4, 2019

There’s a saying statisticians love to trot out when questioned on the value of their surveys. “You are what you measure.”

This is invariably followed by a derisory voice responding: “You use statistics like a drunk uses a streetlight; more for support than enlightenment.”

Each year all dioceses take a census by way of a survey sent to parishes to request an account of their stewardship. Although I have not been asked for an accounting for the Church on the Street, I thought I would submit the figures anyway:

Baptisms: zero (almost one but candidate did not show up for RCIA).

First communion, confirmation, sacramental confession, marriage: all zero.

Burials: six.

This may appear to be a failed Church, and at times I have to admit I wonder at its value based upon these stark figures. However, a footnote is required which may provide a little hope that the Church on the Street is in fact vibrant.

Footnote: Non-sacramental confessions – 20; pastoral meetings – 230; street prayer meetings – 150; blessings – one dog, one snake, 47 people and one house.

I was thinking of this during the winter as a heavy snowfall blanketed the streets making even some of the ever-present garbage piles look positively pristine. Mother Nature, clearly pleased with what she had created over the winter months, had decided to freeze it all in place with a blast of arctic air which blew through the three layers of clothing I wore for protection.

It had crossed my mind that this would be a good evening to stay home, but I recalled how often I had recited the mantra of pastoral ministry, “Show up, Listen, Don’t judge, Don’t fix,” and so there I was walking the well-trodden streets of downtown Toronto.

My route took me past a tavern which often discharged its occupants onto the sidewalk where they happily sat on the step to sober up. This night was no exception, but as I walked by, a rather sober gentleman saw my collar and decided that he would leave his friend sitting there and keep me company.

“You know,” he said, “God loves that man more than you and me. No, no wait, God loves him just as much as you or me.”

“You are right,” I said. “You are a bit of a theologian.”

“Well,” he continued, “there’s beauty all around if we only open our eyes. I believe in God. I am never alone. God is always with me. It’s amazing, we are in the middle of eternity right now. We are living in an eternal now.

“Do you know the most wonderful moment in our life? It’s when we are born. No one can remember it, so we don’t have sad memories. When we get to Heaven, we will not remember the Earth because our memories are often sad, and there is no sadness in Heaven.

“Anyway, I have to go. God bless you for listening and thank you.” And with that he was off into the darkness.

It was about 30 minutes later that I saw a shadowy figure coming towards me and I nodded a “hello,” although I did not recognize him.

“Hi preacher,” he said. “I almost did not recognize you. I see you around a lot. Pray for me please. I am okay, I’m just out for fresh air. It’s good to see you and God bless you.”

Then he turned the corner and was gone as quickly as he appeared.

Later in the evening I was walking past a building which has a reputation for violence and drug abuse. I was being careful because I was quickly catching up to a lady walking in front of me, and I was trying to signal my presence in order to avoid startling her.

She turned and said, “I saw you coming, and I thought you were someone I know. What are you doing downtown?”

I told her I had been coming downtown for many years to walk around and often people want to chat and some want to get off the street.

“Wow,” she said. “You’ve got balls. Oh, sorry excuse my language father. Well, God bless you for doing that.”

As I drove home, I could not help but smile. On the evening when I wondered if there was any point in going downtown, Jesus had blessed me three times: through a theologian, an “old friend” I did not recognize and a woman who knew the streets well.

Perhaps the Church on the Street is not such a failed Church after all. As all pastors know, statistics never reveal the beauty and mystery of the Church.

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


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Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.