My name is Angie, and I oversee the drop-in meal program in the basement here at Church of the Redeemer, an Anglican parish in Toronto, Ontario. Our program runs 5 days a week, 9am to noon, catering to anyone in need of a meal, specifically those who live on the streets and on the margins of our society in downtown Toronto. We see about 100-120 people per day, and offer breakfast and lunch, as well as important services like our medical clinic, counseling, legal services, art studio, discussion groups, and more. I have been with the program since April of this year.
When Jesus was asked questions, he often responded with a story. So allow me to share some stories as we explore this weeks’ texts.
My first day on the job in April, I met Roy. I remember this because his first words to me were ‘You have some big shoes to fill lady! Ill be watching you.’
No pressure, right? Over the first couple months, I could see Roy watching me (literally- he would stand in the corner of the room and watch me with his eyes squinted and his arms crossed). Our interactions were pretty limited for a while.
I can tell you that its really nice hearing good feedback from the priest and the board, but nothing meant more to me than the day Roy came up to me and said ‘Angie lets sit down. I want to tell you that you are doing a good job so far.’ I was elated. ‘That really means a lot to me coming from you. Thank you Roy!’ And it truly did, especially that day: I was exhausted from a morning that was pretty emotionally draining. Roy seemed to look at me and know I needed to hear that at that time.
A few weeks ago, I got a call from a young man named Terry that just got into town after leaving a rough situation. He was very distraught and lonely, and had no place to go. I told him a bit about our program, and he said he wanted to come by. So about a half hour later, there he was, standing at the door.
‘Are you Angie?’ he said, holding his bags tight and scanning the room. I could tell he was very uneasy, and tired. Aaron, who is a regular downstairs, could tell the same. Aaron is a friendly but shy guy, and is very in tune with people when they are hurting. He looked over at us and said ‘Hi, are you new here?’ Terry nodded, and Aaron promptly got a chair from the side of the room and pulled it up to his. ‘You can sit with me’, he said.
I knew in that moment that Aaron would was the person to care for Terry. ‘Aaron’s a great guy’, I said, ‘have a seat with him and Ill come find you in a bit.’ As I walked away I saw some relief come over Terry’s face when I heard Aaron say ‘It looks like you are sad, like you lost your only friend. Don’t worry, you have a new one right here.’ I couldn’t have said a more life- giving statement.
When I first started, there was a young man named Brent working in the kitchen. Brent was covered in tattoos, and would come up to the door in the morning with his headphones blaring around his neck. No one quite knew what brought him to volunteer at the program, but when he was with us, he was an extremely hard worker. Every volunteer seemed to really care about Brent. One day I was speaking with one of the regular volunteers in the kitchen, and she told me that a few of them had put some funds together to help Brent pay for a training he had been wanting to take. They cared about him deeply and wanted him to succeed, and had pooled their money as a small token of encouragement.
Brent sent me an email recently, telling me that the kitchen of the lunch program was a really special place to him. I still don’t really know his story, if he will return to us, or what connected him to us in the first place, but I know that the volunteers in the kitchen truly made an impact on his life, and spoke words of hope to him when he needed it.
In our readings today from the Old Testament and the Gospel, Joshua, as well as the disciples, were very concerned that people were doing things in the name of God, but weren’t really part of the official group. They were worried because these people didn’t really fit. They weren’t really following the right rules. They were proclaiming the hope of the kingdom but doing so in their own voice, in their own way. This really troubled Joshua and the disciples, because they were the ‘in’ crowd. They were the ones that were supposed to be proclaiming the good news! Or so they thought.
But in both passages, Moses and Jesus point out to those questioning that – quite frankly – who cares! Anyone can administer the hope of the kingdom. This is a mission of spreading hope and love. It goes beyond people properly using Jesus’ name. Moses and Jesus didn’t seem to care about how the hope of the kingdom was being administered, just that it was happening. In fact, they were quite happy to hear that others were catching on and spreading hope in their own ways.
So when I see volunteers speaking life into each other, participants like Roy caring for me and going out of their way to encourage me, people like Aaron giving hope to a stranger – I can’t help but think that this is truly starting to look like the kingdom of God.
One final story I’d like to share with you is what brought me to Church of the Redeemer. 8 months ago, I was working with an organization I truly loved and still do, and was doing work I was happy with. I was moving into more of a desk job and leadership role, which I enjoyed. But for some reason in the last while, I had felt a bit unsettled. These things were really heavy on my heart one cold night as I was walking down College street.
I was stopped at the crosswalk and looking across the street. It was bitter cold—the kind of cold where your eyes are watering and you try your best to cover every inch of skin with something warm. I looked across the street, and at the corner of Yonge and College I saw a man lying on a mattress. The mattress was half in the street, and he was obviously very drunk, and was rolling around on it. When he would try to stand up he would get dangerously close to the speeding cars going by. It was amazing to me that the cars continued to go, people continued to walk, and all this was still taking place.
The only thing I could think of in that moment is that this guy is going to roll right into the street and get smashed by a car. It was just waiting to happen. I went up to him and said ‘we have to move your bed, you are going to get hit here’. He stumbled around and I tried to keep him standing upright for a moment. I told him again, ‘Your bed- this is not a good place. And it wont be as windy over here by the wall. We have to move your bed.’ He looked at me in silence. Finally he said, ‘Ok, lets move it.’
I’m sure some hidden cameras caught some comical material as the two of us tried to drag his mattress closer to the building. It was heavy and he had lots of stuff all over it that was rolling all over the place. I would try to gather it all together before it all blew over again. He would drag the mattress 2 feet and fall on his butt, and get back up and do it all over again. During our labours, I introduced myself, and he told me his name was Ed.
In time, we finally and successfully had moved the bed and all his things to the side of the wall.
‘Ok, well it was nice to meet you Ed.’ I said as I started to walk away. ‘Wait.’ Ed said. ‘Hold my hands.’ To be honest, I remember hesitating at the sight of his hands covered in sores, but I proceeded anyway. He held my hands, and leaned in close ‘Do you know Jesus?’
‘Oh, yes I do actually’ I said. ‘Oh really? Who is he?’ Yikes, I wasn’t expecting that. I fumbled through some strange Sunday-school inspired response, and to be honest I can’t remember at all what I said. It was so bad that I remember being relieved when he interrupted me. ‘No, that’s not him’ he said. I just looked at him blankly, still holding his hands. ‘Oh.’ Is all I could say. He responded: ‘Jesus just helped me move this bed. That’s who Jesus is.’
I only share this story with you to tell you that an intoxicated man rolling around on a mattress quite literally changed the course of my life. It was as if those words were what I needed to figure out what wasn’t right in my job. Even though I loved it, it wasn’t my calling anymore. I needed to get closer to the street.
Ed was the prophet. Thank God I listened and didn’t write him off as a drunk guy rolling around on a mattress.
This is what our meal program teaches me every day. Writing someone off because of their current situation, mental health status, or addiction, is NOT an option for Christians. That would be an easy way out. We are called to something greater. We are called to recognize when words of life are being spoken. And when we hear someone speak words of life to us, we have to listen. And we better do whatever we can to give room for these people to have a voice. We are to heed Jesus’ words- ‘if they are not against us, they are for us’- and do everything we possibly can to spread glimpses of the Kingdom, and empower others to do the same.
The Good News is being spread by some unlikely folks. Lets be there to hear it.
Angie Hocking is the Outreach Coordinator at Church of the Redeemer, and has worked alongside communities in different capacities for 10 years. She is currently working towards her Masters of Theological Studies in Community Development at Wycliffe College, at the University of Toronto.