…miles to go
by Terry Camsey, Major –
Do you find that, once in a while, out of nowhere a 2’ x 4’ plank appears to hit you between the eyes and shake you up a little? It happened to me recently as I was enjoying a Starbucks coffee and the New York Times—a little vice that, as a senior citizen, I am able to accommodate.
The article that caught my eye was titled, “No altar, no pews, not even a roof, but very much a church,” by Neela Banerjee. It describes an initiative of the Church of the Epiphany, a downtown Episcopal parish which has designed a ministry to take a street church to the homeless of Washington D.C.
Banerjee’s article describes how, although the main church keeps its doors open during the day, and offers breakfast and an indoor service for the homeless on Sundays, the rector wanted to expand into some type of outdoor worship (now there’s a novel idea!).
“While churches have long provided meals, occasional shelter and indoor worship services for the urban homeless,” she wrote, “a small but growing number of congregations now recognize that many homeless people will not attend traditional services indoors.”
“When you become homeless, you become very aware of how people treat you,” said Rev. Ann Marie Jeffrey, who runs Street Church. “It’s hard to walk into a church, and it’s even harder when you are homeless because you are worried about how you will be received, or if you smell bad.”
She could have been describing the traditional church of William Booth’s day, which he encouraged his converts to attend. Doubtless, they had the same feelings and felt similar rejection, since the “upstanding churchgoers” of that day were equally discomforted. It caused Booth to start a church for his converts from not dissimilar backgrounds.
Many of his converts were, of course, won through his “street churches”—the open air meetings that were such a feature of early Salvation Army ministry. No chance, then, that the public was unaware that we were a church (which seems to be the biggest excuse for non-growth that I have heard over many years of working with various corps).
Doesn’t it make you a little disturbed to see how today another denomination is taking up the same strategy that was once a hallmark of our movement and now seems almost to have died out completely? Worse, have we become more like the respectable church of Booth’s day, than the revolutionary movement he started to reach the poor and disenfranchised with the gospel of Christ?
The article finishes by talking about Billy Ray, who was sitting out communion on a nearby park bench because his legs hurt from walking across the city that morning to get to Street Church.
“I was way out of touch with the Savior,” said Billy Ray, looking at the communion line. “This here keeps me in touch. Otherwise I’d be thinking devilish thoughts, and this helps me stay positive.”
How many Billy Rays are there in the neighborhood of your corps—with, as Robert Frost’s poem suggests, “…miles to go before they rest?”
And what would William Booth do?