July 15, 2019

July Blog Post

At our last staff meeting, the three co-pastors asked our spiritual advisor how one deals with the despair and sense of hopelessness that can overwhelm all of us out on the street.  Some weeks seem like all we’re doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and not really helping anyone in any significant way.  After all, there’s nothing we can do about the drugs, the violence and the thefts; we can’t pull apartments out of our sock-filled backpacks, nor can we fix ruined teeth or manage chronic pain.  We can try and run with folks as they circle the drain, but eventually we have to let them go and watch them swirl into the abyss.

And now we’re trying to manage the angry questions about why the recently arrived asylum seekers are receiving such an outpouring of love and concern from across the local area while they are being consigned to a future shelter as far from the city center as possible.  At the core of that question and that angst is the unanswerable question:  why, as Americans, do we believe that there are two classes of those who need help — the deserving and the undeserving poor?  Why are asylum seekers seen as worth of our care, but the homeless only receive our disdain? Why is there a hand up for some, and grumpy grumblings about bootstraps for others?

As people or faith, we know that Jesus made no distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. He loved all the people who struggled on the margins, no matter the circumstances that led them to their dark place.  And it’s this love for all that he taught us that is the answer to our despair, because no matter now dark things get, no matter how many icebergs sit in our collective path, there is always the light of love that illuminates the horizon with each new day.  And with this realization, we can see past the darkness and the hopelessness and the despair and we can see the light the lurks on the edges of things — the generosity of friend to friend when they share what little they have; the love of couples who may have had a screaming argument 10 minutes ago, but now are sitting quietly and holding hands; the miracle of people passed out in the courtyard one week, and then anchoring an art opening in Portland the next; the remarkable journey of a writer who is honing his craft in adult education classes with new Americans just learning English, and finding, with them, that we all have stories to tell. 

There is always light, if you just look in the right direction.  And for those of us who attempt, as best we can, to walk in the sandals of that Galilean peasant, we have a special compass that can lead us to the horizon of a new dawn.  Close the drain and tack far from the icebergs, we have places to go.

Pastor Jeff

May 16, 2019

May Blog Post

It’s very hard to come face to face with the evidence of an unjust society. 
It is uncomfortable. 
Every time I have been out on the street in this ministry I have been confronted with my own privilege and it is uncomfortable.  It’s like walking into another reality –  it may not be Oz but we’re certainly not in Kansas anymore. 
I’m new to this ministry and part of my training included attending as many Grace – Street Ministry’s Sunday services as my schedule would allow; if you are unfamiliar with the service it occurs outside on the corner of Preble and Oxford Streets.  This particular Sunday Pastor Dave was on and I was late. It was unseasonably warm and the grape juice on our communion table was attracting yellow jackets. 
That morning there was a good sized crowd for the service. By the time I arrived folks had already formed into a tight circle for the service.  As I was trying to figure out how best to break into the circle—a large, tattooed, long haired, motorcycle gang type, intimidating man looked at me, smiled broadly and opened-up the circle for me.  I was immediately embarrassed because I realized that in my civilian life I would have crossed the street if I saw this man walking towards me.  The service was lively; it was made livelier by the persistent presence of yellow jackets that were drawn by the grape juice to worship with us.  They caused quite a stir we danced around and swatted and laughed as we tried to avoid getting stung.  After the service, one woman asked Pastor Dave to pray with her—they were by the communion table and most of our group had disbursed, but not the yellow jackets.  Indeed they were becoming tangled up with her long hair.  My friend (the man I would have crossed the street to avoid) disengaged the yellow jackets from her hair and gently shepherded them away. 
We -- housed and homeless are in this world together.  We are God’s children and we stumble in darkness unaware of the miracle---in this shared sacred space, where all of God’s creation resides.
Pastor Jessica

March 14, 2019

A Perspective on Peace

When I first heard of our quest to get Debbie Brown to Smile Again in Lewiston I was mildly concerned about the logistics of this endeavor.  I volunteered to help drive with a very slight trepidation in my heart of having someone I don't know riding in my car.....(as you may remember when I first joined you all at GSM I didn't want to do this at all but time has passed and I have given rides to various folks to the bus and such and so don't feel that same fear anymore...)

Even though I didn't think I knew this woman, I was up for it.  A homeless woman without teeth? - of course she needs new teeth!  and all had been arranged and paid for and we just needed to get her to Lewiston for 4 appointments. Then I read my co-pastor's account of getting her and her husband to the appointment on Tuesday.  My initial thought was 'and her husband?!'  It's one thing to have a woman ride with me but also a man I don't know?!  I admit that I was not thrilled with my co-pastor....the phrase 'male privilege' crossed my mind.....But as I thought about it and prayed and considered pulling out I felt  that if  my co-pastor says its ok (cuz I trust him) then it will be fine.  And then I read his account of the first appointment and how well it went and I was good.  

So I showed up Thursday at Preble Street Resource Center to pick her and her husband up and we drove to Lewiston. It was great. We even stopped for a burger after.  What happened as I talked with her mostly as her husband was in the back seat and dozing off was that once again I was reminded that we are the same, we share so much of our humanity as she spoke of their hopes for getting housing in Augusta soon and how then he might occasionally be able to see his kids.  She talked about how they try to keep to themselves to stay clear of 'stuff' happening at PS. and then more than once she acknowledged him sleeping in the back seat by saying 'he feels safe'. He feels safe enough riding in the car of a stranger to go to sleep - my words. In that moment I knew Emmanuel and I was once again humbled and in awe.  

Sleep in heavenly peace.....

A humble servant I pray, 

Pastor Nancy

February 11, 2019

February Blog Post

In a way street pastors never leave work. Years of street work changes you, how you see and how you react, wherever you find yourself. You sometimes move into an observed need, gently, carefully.
Thus, ninety minutes north of Preble street, Portland ME, at the end of a Wednesday work day at my other job (many of us work one or two of these), and trying to fit in a computer-related appointment after work with the Geek squad at the Augusta ME Best Buy, I saw a man in my headlights just up from the right turn into the BB parking trying to cross the road with his aluminum walker. The several cars before me pulled wide to avoid him and, when I stopped to roll down my passenger side window, the car behind me honked its horn. 

It was late afternoon, fully dark, and very cold, 10-15 degrees. The man was youngish, very big, somewhat disheveled, and wore only cotton pants, a white tee shirt, and an open zippered gray sweat shirt, not even a hoodie. He appeared disoriented by the swerving and honking cars. He was in the middle of the crosswalk and had just begun very slowly and deliberately to turn his walker around. Nearing the curb then, he saw that I’d stopped and rolled down my window, and he pushed his walker over to me. 

"Can I take you anywhere?" I asked. 

He pointed to my shirt pocket and signed, I need to write. 

I saw that he could not speak but could hear. I handed him my street pad and a ballpoint pen. Bending over by the open car door for these (because he is big and my car is small), he took the pad and wrote, "Shaw's." 

I said, "Yes, I’ll take you there," and added, "but I have a ten-minute appointment at Best Buy, can you wait in the car?" 

It was warmed up by then. He was stone cold, I could see, but sweating. I’ve been that way too. He put a thumb up and signed that I open the back door, where he stowed the walker. Then he squeezed into my front passenger seat. I pulled into the BB parking lot and parked. "You'll be okay?" I asked. 

He signed, "Yes." 

After ten minutes with the good Geek Squad, I came out to the car to see whether he was okay. I think I woke him up. 

He signed, "Okay." The car was still warm enough. 

The GS gentleman knew I had a man in need waiting in my car and kindly moved right through our work. Ten minutes later, fearing I might see my rider wandering away, but relieved to find him settled still in the front seat, I jumped in and drove off to the nearby Shaw's. He pointed the way at each turn and smiled, knowingly. 

At the supermarket entrance, he hauled out of the front seat, I went around and handed him his walker, and he turned carefully to walk in through automatic doors. People weren’t sure how to handle his slowness I could see. He’s used to that, I thought. He then turned and, smiling me the sweetest smile I have ever received, ever, gave me a thumbs up. Then, almost as an afterthought, he pointed to the litter on the pavement from my car floor (sock wrappers from the previous day’s work at Preble street) which had spilled out as he’d pulled himself from the front seat. As if to say thanks for picking up that stuff.

Pastor Mair calls these sorts of encounter miracles. And you know what? They are. 
I never got his name.