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.