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The church of refuge for broken hearts

  • June 29, 2023

There is a quotation which has been on the Internet for years, attributed to many people, but the one I saw had Jacob Waldron’s name attached to it. It is entitled, “Church is Hard.” In it he says, “Church is hard for the person walking through the doors, afraid of judgment. Church is hard for the prodigal soul returning home, broken and battered by the world. Church is hard for the teenage girl, ashamed of her mistakes.”

This quotation came to my mind over the past few weeks while on the street. The Church on the Street has always tried to be a haven for the weary where they can feel welcomed,

I was walking by the Salvation Army shelter, and as always, I had to weave my way through the groups standing outside, chatting with some, and avoiding the fights of others. I passed a small doorway leading into the shelter and a lady had taken up temporary residence there with belongings strewn around.

“Hi,” I said, “how are you this evening?”

“I’m good,” she said, “but I wonder if you could do something for me. It’s embarrassing to ask this, but I wonder if you could go to the convenience store around the corner and get me some clothes. I need a pair of leggings and some underwear.”

With that, she went into her purse and pulled out $20. “This should cover it.”

“The convenience store?” I asked, “Are you sure?”

“Yes, they have them at the back of the store.”

She was referring to a store I have passed by for many years, and I always wondered how it survived in this district known for robberies and violence.

I went into the store, and upon going to the back I found myself in what could only be described as an explosion in a women’s clothing department. Piled four feet high and eight feet wide was a mountain of garments. My task was to sift through it looking for leggings and underwear, while hoping that no one looked at me and my clerical collar with a knowing nod and a wink. I thought to myself, “I should have paid more attention in the seminary. I really don’t remember them teaching this.” Finally, I emerged with the trophies in hand, and delivered them to my new-found friend. 

The following week I met up with her again, still in the same doorway. Perhaps the leggings and underwear had created a confidential bond between us, but as we spoke, her life unfolded in a mixture of hope and despair. She grieved for the son that was taken from her when he was nine years old.

“He is not in a good place now, and there is nothing I can do. I had been clean for seven years back then, but I couldn’t handle it and I relapsed badly, and here I am.”

As we spoke, people would come up and talk with her. For each she had a word of comfort, and in some cases stern advice.

“Promise me you are going right to detox,” she said to one young man. “You have had way too much already.”

Clearly, she knew many of the secrets of the Church on the Street that were hidden from me.

“I want to draw attention to the grief on the streets,” she said. “In the fall I am going to put on a play in the park over there. People will be dressed the way they see themselves, and how others see them. We will also have a walk of remembrance. You see these stars on the sidewalk? I did that. I draw one star for everyone I know who has died on the street so they will be remembered. She then pointed to a poem that she had written on the wall beside her. “These are the words my spirit speaks to me about comfort and protection.”

I prayed for her and her son, and with that we said goodnight, and a promise to meet up again in the Church on the Street next week. As Jacob Waldron wrote, “Church is hard because on the outside it all looks shiny and perfect. Each in their Sunday best in behaviour and dress. But even on the hard days, Church is a refuge for broken hearts, and when I walk back in, afraid and broken, I remember God has never failed to meet me there.”

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

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