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Expanding the work of Church on the Street

  • October 20, 2022

I have often prayed for others to join the ministry of “The Church on the Street.” However, even though many have come to look and see, none has chosen to follow. My offer of “franchises available” has failed to convince. Unfortunately, the front-page news this week of two murders in the area dampened any enthusiasm there might have been.

Imagine my delight when I was approached several months ago by a deacon interested in taking ministry to the streets of a large city in his home diocese. His wife had agreed, and he was in the process of talking it over with those in charge of ministry in the diocese. On a recent evening, we walked the streets together. 

We approached “The Gardens,” and I remarked that over the previous month the number of tents had quadrupled. They had gone from being temporary humble shelters to what looked like a mini-city of high-end tents. The park was where one of the two murders had occurred in the previous week. In the deepening gloom, we continued to the street that was once the locus of violence, but which had mellowed since COVID hit the streets.

As we turned the corner, a young lady was slumped against the wall. She looked at our clerical collars and gave a sign of recognition as she introduced herself.

“I’m Jane. I’m not a good person. People tell me that, and they treat me bad. I just love people, why do they say that about me and do these things? This is why I think I am a bad person.”

How can you answer such a plea from the heart? What can restore the dignity of a young lady whose life is defined by the judgment of street people? All I could do is reassure her that she is a good person because of her continued love for those who have hurt her. I asked if we could pray for her. As she nodded, we reached out and prayed others would see the deep goodness of her life, and that Jane would come to appreciate how much God loved her.

We had not gone much further when a lady saw us and came over. The face was familiar, but I could not remember her name. “I’m Ruby, I’ve known you for years on the street. I am doing well now,” she said.

I recalled she was a friend of Beth, who had long since managed to get off the street. When I got home, I checked my notes and realized I had known Ruby for 15 years but had not seen her for seven. It’s nice to see “old friends” on the street doing well.

Around the corner was the Salvation Army men’s shelter which always has groups sitting on the ground and lounging in doorways. A frail young lady looked up as we passed and when she saw our collars, she blessed herself. We stopped to chat, and once again the meeting reminded me of the respect that the clerical collar has on the street, and how it can often evoke the baptismal grace within others.

We were soon to be reminded that the clerical collar can also evoke memories that we are all united under the one Father. We passed a small mosque, and outside were several men who had just prayed Salah. As we passed, they bowed to us, and we in returned bowed to them as we recognized our common godhead.

We had found our way back to “The Gardens” when we encountered “King” who had decided to hold court in “The Gardens.”

“Hey deacon,” he shouted. “You know the Bible don’t you?”

I felt I was being set up, but went for it anyway.

“I’ll do my best” I said, “what’s your question?”

“Who owned the chicken that crowed at Peter after he denied the big guy?” he asked. “Someone must have owned it. Who was it.”

“Rooster,” I replied. “It was a rooster, not a chicken.”

The discussion degraded into an argument as to which came first, the chicken or the egg. We took our leave with “King” shouting, “That’s a great question, isn’t it?”

The good news is that subject to ecclesial approval, one day we will have another deacon witnessing to the “The Church on the Street.”

(Kinghorn is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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