Take Care of Each Other

Editor’s Note:Today’s post is a guest post by Roger Fuchs, a frequent visitor to this blog, and an outreach minister in Portland. You can find Roger’s own blog site here.

My child, do not cheat the poor of their living, and do not grieve the hungry, or anger the one in need.  Do not add to the troubles of the desperate, or delay giving to the needy.     Sirach 4:1-3 NRSV


In the Dorothy Day post, Karen mentioned me as a street pastor who is living out the gospel Dorothy Day spoke of.  I’m still red faced, much humbled by those words.  I do so little, but it has done much to me.  Here’s a little of what and why.

I’m Chaplain of Operation Nightwatch in downtown Portland:   www.operationnightwatch.org .  We are a ministry of hospitality with people experiencing homelessness, poverty, mental illness and isolation, all of the above.  We began as a street ministry 30 years ago and moved indoors several years later, although two years ago we re-started some street ministry activities.  Our sole salaried employee, Executive Director Gary Davis, is a “retired” UCC pastor who was one of the original street ministers.

Nightwatch is about hospitality and relationship.  Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, our center is open from 7-11 PM.  Our guests can be off their feet, be warm and dry, engage in conversation with volunteers over coffee and sandwiches or a game of Scrabble.  RN’s offer foot care.  We aren’t a soup kitchen, nor a treatment, housing or employment agency.  We have socks and blankets, but our focus is the human being, the person.

I began volunteering at Nightwatch in 2003.  It made me nervous going downtown on a Friday night and spending time in the tiny center we had then.  There was often tension outside, but we said, “The street stops here.”  These were people first, I told myself.  Being in seminary while working full-time, I was often tired when I went downtown.  I always came home energized by guests, volunteers, and conversations.  I still do.

I grew up a farm kid in eastern Nebraska, majored in German in college, learned Russian and did intelligence work in the U.S. Air Force.  Back in civilian life, I worked for a John Deere dealer in Nebraska, got into aviation maintenance in Texas, and moved with my wife Jean to Portland 33 years ago.  In 2000, I ran out of excuses and began seminary studies.  I’ve done the whole thing:  course work, parish internship, clinical pastoral education at the VA Medical Center.

I always knew it led somewhere, just never knew where.  I’ve done gobs of “church work” in my life, attended countless meetings and kept minutes, saw worship wars that rival the Taliban.  My gut told me we shouldn’t end up in a parish, but the whole process continually pushed in that direction.

Then came the call from Debbie, the Director of Nightwatch at the time.  She had a dream to add a worship service to the ministry of hospitality:  church for our folks.  I said I’d try.  The Board accepted my proposal, and we’ve been worshipping on Sunday evenings since May 6, 2007.  Last year, I took over the weekly Bible studies.

This year, my Lutheran synod and home church found a way to issue a formal call to the ministry I was already doing.  I was ordained in January after a decade of work.  I’m called and ordained but not paid.  It’s a volunteer position, so I depend on a meager income from some aviation engineering work and gifts from a few supporters. Not the American Dream as advertised.  Not the springboard to retirement touted by investment managers.

But God provides.  We have enough.  We have something else:  relationships with people we would otherwise have never had.  We have new eyes for our neighbors, our city and the world.

Our simple worship of Word and Sacrament is heavily infused with scripture and prayer.  We worship not as a denomination but as the kind of community called by the vineyard owner who went out at all hours or the king who wanted everyone invited to the wedding banquet.

Prayer is special.  I prepare no written prayers or lists in advance.  It’s all the people’s concerns.  Prayers for housing, for jobs, for addictions and cancer, family members, parents and children, pet cats, neighbors who committed suicide, the mayor, the president, Congress, our soldiers, world peace, the strength to keep going and stay out of prison.  One week, a man whose coherence is very up and down voiced the most profound prayer request I’ve ever heard.  He asked that we pray for the people who are well–so that they could understand what it’s like to be sick.

We give an offering, have since day one.  Any worshiping community needs a mission.  Ours is local and global:  downtown food pantries and Mercy Corps.  Our offering isn’t tithed.  One hundred percent goes out the door, every penny found on the street or left over from SSD and put in the basket.  We’ve given money for help in Haiti, Japan and Joplin.  Over $8000 so far.

God gives it back to us in volunteers who bring food and do little things.  Like K. who gave R. a used cell phone.  R. had been homeless in Portland for over 20 years.  Down on his luck and living in his truck, R. could not afford new license tags.  When police towed his truck, R. lost both his home and all his work tools for generating income.  The phone helped R. connect with people who had yard work to do.  Last winter it helped R. connect with a brother back East who came and got him.  Homeless no more.  Jesus performed signs and wonders called miracles…

I do what I do because I see miracles like that.  I can’t preach the Beatitudes unless I mean it.  And live it.  Sometimes the miracle is that worshipers don’t shout, “Shut up, preacher, that’s BS!  You don’t know squat!”  That they don’t says I’m only going where Christ already is.  It’s why the meal we share after the Holy Meal at worship is such a blessing.  It’s what those first “Christ-ians” did.  They knew Jesus was there, so they celebrated.

The Bible’s most ancient and enduring mandates are to love God and neighbor, but we can’t love anyone we don’t know.  To do that, we have to go where they are and spend time.  Like Jesus did.  I do what I do because He did.  And so much more.


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  • Ken Summerlin

    Your story is humbling and inspiring, all at once.

  • john in pdx

    Thanks, we are lucky to have you around.

    • AF Roger

      John: Thanks. Some people think quite the opposite, that ministries like Operation Nightwatch are not the solution but a big part of the problem. Even those of us directly involved question ourselves. For example, read the current newsletter article by Director Gary Davis: http://www.operationnightwatch.org/dirmess_n-d11.html

      I come back to one thought, time and again. Our default position is that we bascially want people to go away, or at least to get out of the way, to no longer be part of the community, a presence on the street, a nag on our conscience. So we devise plans to “end homelessness” as though it were a disease, not a symptom. Simultaneously, we work at cross purposes on most levels of society. We have to save money and cut budgets, often doing so at the expense of human services. But here’s the nagging question: Is it cheaper to cut mental health services and respond to the consequences with police, visits to the ER and the criminal justice system? How much money did we “save”?

      My wife works as an Education Assistant for special ed in a primary school. Here’s a real window to our future if we are willing to look. Not only do a staggering number of kids need special help these days, but so do their households, their parents and adult add-ons that have little idea how to be adult, let alone parent. The environments some kids come from are almost completely unregulated–until there is an explosion. Consequently, the kids don’t learn to self-regulate. And especially, they don’t learn to respect females in positions of authority (the school is almost entirely a female staff), and their households often have very unhealthy male figures. Poverty, substance abuse, criminal justice system and homelessness, here we come… And then the results of that mix reproduce again.

      Every now and then, a pastor or youth leader in a church wants to send a bunch of kids from the burbs or rural areas down to Operation Nightwatch because their kids are “too sheltered”. My answer is usually the same. I say, “Thanks, but we are not an exhibit to be visited. Send me a few of your adults instead because they are the decision makers and voters who have voice and power.”

      There are people Jesus wants us to get to know. Not so we can change them. More often so that they can change us. Maybe instead of expecting schools to fix kids, the church could adopt a new mission: No Family Left Behind.

      Thanks for reading. Maybe sometime you’d even like to volunteer at Nightwatch?

      • john in pdx

        I avoid guys like you whenever I can. You make me sit down and put my thoughts on paper. I am an ignorant and shallow person and I hope this comes out right. It’s 5am on Saturday and I have a busy day. There is no proofing this ramble.

        I have great respect for what you do and say. I will volunteer down at Nightwatch. I don’t know when, but it looks like a good program.

        God knows what he is doing. I trust him. But he put me here for a reason and that reason is not about me. His power humbles me.
        You are someone that gets it. I don’t think I have yet. I have a lot work to do. Thanks for what you do.

        But first I have to take care of what I can do today. Anna is on hospice and has no family. I need to be there for her for her last few days. Alice is in the hospital and having problems too. Those are two of my Monday Meals on Wheels group that has turned into so much more. Karen – I haven’t sent a report lately so I will send you one this Monday.

        I need to cook 10 gallons of Chili for Lacey house http://laceyshouse.com/ before next Friday and 120 lbs. of pork shoulder for the Wilson Football Team this weekend.

        My sailboat comes out of the water today for the winter. I have to take it to the Garlic Shed. Mike has a bowling tournament in Molalla that I can’t miss.

        I plan to go down to St Mary’s home for boys to spend some hours next week http://stmaryshomeforboys.org/. These boys are in for the big 3 – physical, mental and verbal abuse. They only get shoes when they earn them. It’s surprising how long that takes.

        I am lucky – my boys take after my wife. They are great boys. The youngest one just completed his Eagle Scout on Tuesday. I have nine Eagle Mentor pins and two that didn’t give one to me in my house. That’s awesome.

        I am glad my sons don’t know I left home at 13 without a place to live and I became an emancipated minor. I am not proud of it. I never made it downtown and I never quit school but like I say – I am fortunate. Thanks, God.

        I always feel like I am making excuses when someone asks me to help and I don’t have enough hours to do more right away.

        Some thoughts on Gary:

        Gary will never be redundant

        Gary should not worry about what a talking head says. His question to Cain should be – what are you going to do to help your fellow man today? You just asked me that question.

        You are wrong about taking in kids from the burbs or rural areas. Gary should take in every kid that wants to come down for a night. Gary needs to realize that he is a role model for young men and women. He needs to teach them that there are still hero’s in this world. It’s not about the men and women that the kid sees that night. A kid needs to learn how to help his fellow man. Those men are Gary and AF Roger. You are heroes. He isn’t learning it at home and maybe his pastor has been guided to see that. I am always so proud when a young man comes to me and wants to know where he can help.

        I don’t worry every day about what I am doing. I worry every day about what I have not accomplished for my fellow man.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.


        An old Cherokee told his grandson, “My son, there’s a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. Its anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is Good. Its joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth. The grandson thought and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
        Cherokee folktale

        • AF Roger

          John: Don’t sell yourself short. There are varieties of gifts and endless places to use them. Sounds like you are already doing more than I. And keep doing the Meals on Wheels. You may be bringing them to us someday, sooner than you think. I once thought that if all the stars aligned right, we might have enough to live on in the future; but the last few years have not allowed us to put any more away. And thanks to financial bubble makers and government malpractice, what we once had has shrunk by nearly half. Ain’t no reason to hope it will get better here; and so far, ain’t a leader or wannabe on the horizon who either has the brains or the courage to say honestly what we face and what we need to do. Together.

          As a man I much admire said so eloquently, “Everybody wants peace. But we also want what we cannot have without war.” And as another wise man said, “The church that ceases to think ceases to count.”

          Your points on kids are well taken. But they also need to see the same behavior out of the adults around them and in their own communities. Homelessness and poverty are everywhere in this country. And in fact, only about 20% of Portland’s homeless are in the downtown core. They are right under the noses of churches in the burbs. If we look.

          A hero I am not. The heroes I see every day are the ones who keep going when many would long ago have given up, myself included.

          “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…” Amen.

          • John in PDX

            One other quick comment.
            My house serves as a wayside for my sons friends. You need to take a piss, have a meal, play air hockey, shoot nerf guns, play video games etc etc etc – you have come to right place.

            Yesterday when I was leaving to go do something – Ian and Conner stopped by take a piss.

            As high schoolers they were spending their Saturday delivering for Meals on Wheels. Ian had called me a month ago asking how he could help.


          • AF Roger


  • Janet

    My husband and I have only served one meal on a Sunday evening at Nightwatch and we’re going to do it for the second time coming up soon. I mention this because we are anxious to return. It feels so real, like we are exactly where we are supposed to be. I always leave thinking I want to be back very soon, to have more opportunity to get to know the people who come in and out and gather there. And then life happens and we get caught up in other projects, activities, and responsibilities. I keep thinking I’ll get back more often. Try volunteering in some way at Nightwatch and I’m guessing you will have similar feelings.