Shots Fired

In my dreams the very presence of the church in a place makes a difference in the community.  I believe that is true with Compton Heights CC as we see people receive care and nurture – through the worship, prayer, and faith sharing in the congregation, the sharing of food and clothing with those in need, help with employment for those searching for jobs, and the opportunity to discover and share our gifts to extend God’s love to others.  In my dreams, I see the church creating a safe space, a beautiful and nurturing space as people rest on benches in the church garden and share our lives in SOUL CARE.  Lately, I see these dreams being realized.

But today I was reminded once again, that we are present in the midst of the mess of society.  We do not take away, fix, or heal the anger and the violence.  We are in it with the rest of the community.

Late this afternoon, I was at my desk when I heard gunfire.  I ran to the window (probably not the best response to the sound of gunfire) and saw a young man fall to the street.  Others were running.  Some away and some toward him.  As I called 911, I could see the blood begin to come through his white t-shirt … it looked like he was shot to the side of the abdomen.  As I was describing what was happening, the dispatcher told me to let them know they were on the way.  But then 2 of the guys running toward him, picked him up out of the street and began carrying him to a truck they had parked at the corner.  They laid him in the bed of the truck (with no license plates) and sped off.  When I got outside, there was one other man who had tried to intervene.   He indicated that none of those involved would speak to him.  He, too, had called the police.  But they were intent on getting away before anyone could arrive.

As one of the officers interviewed me, I was aware of how difficult it was to describe everything I’d seen and heard.  How many shots?  How many people?  The make of the truck.  I mainly remembered colors – white shirt with blood coming through.  Green truck.  The light grey sweatshirt of the guy who jumped in the back of the truck with the one who’d been shot.  The contrast of the young man laying shot in the street with this beautiful, blue-skied day and the flowers blooming in the boulevard planters and the bank of roses on the opposite side of the street.   The dispatcher had asked me how much blood?  Now this officer wanted to know.  That widening circle on a white t-shirt on a human being.  It was as if my mind was stuck on that image.   And quiet — eerily quiet — a few shouts at first and then quiet.

The police combed the street and the planter for evidence, and then everyone was gone.  A few neighbors still standing outside staring.  But I looked at the street and it seemed unreal that only moments earlier, he was laying there — shot.  And then whisked away by those who wanted to protect themselves.  Gang activity.  It’s not new here.  We live just down the street and we’re familiar with the territories of the Bloods and the Crips.

We hope that our Isaiah 58 Ministries Youth Groups have a positive effect on kids, providing a place of  belonging so that they do not turn to gangs.  Covenant House is working in our neighborhood with youth who are on the edge.  We reach out beyond the church building to interact with people on the street in our neighborhood.  The reality, however, is that gang violence continues.  Young black men, in particular, lose their lives and take the lives of others for no reason.  They are looking for something sadly misnamed as ‘respect’ when, in fact, there is no respect in it.

Following the shooting, I needed to eat supper and then have a pastor’s cabinet meeting there at the church.  I was then and still am — hours later — shaken, and running the images over and over in my mind.  I’ve prayed for those young men and others like them.  I’ve prayed that the Church may make a difference; that we may set the table of reconciliation with God and God’s people right out there in the street.  Oh, God, let it be so.


Helpful Redirect!

I appreciate Bob Cornwall’s comments on the book UnChristian and his redirect to the book From MySpace to Sacred Space by Amy and Christian Piatt.  I’ll look forward to checking it out.

The Spirit’s movement was apparent this evening!  My spouse and I just attended the farewell celebration for a wonderful friend, Paul, who is moving from his position as Pastoral Musician at Trinity Presbyterian Church here to be come the Pastoral Musician at Park Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in New York City.  I feel privileged to witness the transformation of one congregation and to anticipate the transformation of another  through one who truly understands music as prayer uniting God’s people across our many languages, cultures, and experiences.  The language of music — It surely is a Pentecost thing!!

Strangers and “Ashes to Go”

Lent has begun with challenge and invitation.  On Tuesday night following a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper with neighboring congregations, I headed to the grocery store to pick up some leeks with an eye toward beginning Lent with leek soup.  It was pouring down rain.  As I walked in the store, there was an older woman sitting in one of the motorized chair shopping carts.  A couple of bags of groceries were in the basket, and she was looking out the window at the rain.  As I reached for a shopping cart, I commented on the buckets of rain coming down.  She indicated that she had been sitting there for a couple of hours and hoped her children would back and get her.  She said she had been released from the hospital the day before, having had problems with her feet because of her diabetes.    She looked so alone.

I told her that I was going to get just a couple of items and that, if she had not heard from her children, I would take her home.  She seemed grateful.  When I had gathered my leeks and tomatoes, and reached the checkout, she was still sitting there.  I brought my car up close to the door and helped her get in.  She only lived a couple of long blocks away, so the drive was brief.  I learned on the way that she has a daughter  “on crack” and that the state had taken away her daughter’s children.  She grieved the loss of her grandchildren, but is in no physical condition to care for them.  A son was just simply not around.  When I took her groceries up to her door and stepped in, I could see that she lived in a very neat apartment.  We went through the difficulty of her trying to pay me — a me refusing.  Then she became tearful. We talked a bit about her declining health, her absent children, and her sadness.  She said she’s tired of living, and I talked with her about God calling her to life.   I found out that she has a church and a pastor.  I asked her if she would like us to pray and so we did.  Then I left, she opened the door again and asked if I would please keep praying for her.  I assured her that I would.  I drove away ready for Lent to begin; ready to be in touch with my own and others’ mortality.  I also drove away grateful that again and again in our world the barrier of race is breaking down as it did between us that night.  I went home and made leek soup.

This morning I dressed to be outdoors for “Ashes to Go.”  This was the second year that our ecumenical group of congregations have offered “Ashes to Go” on a  busy corner of Grand  in the city.  A local coffee shop sets up a tables and small tent for us and provides coffee and hot chocolate.  The pastors (in vestments) offer ashes on the street corners.  We have brief liturgy for those who would like to participate in that, or we can simply talk a bit about Ash Wednesday, have prayer together, and impose the ashes.  Last year the weather was wonderful and about a hundred people came for ashes.  This year it was bitter cold and sleeting; still a good steady stream of folks who came.  I had a wonderful conversation with a woman who had parked her car and come over “because” she said “I need to find a church again”.  We talked for a bit and she left, expressing her need for God and Christ’s community in her life.  I hope she will try one of our congregations — or any congregation for that matter.

I confess that it was slow, there were four of us, and I was so cold that I did not last the two hours.

I preferred the warmth of tonight’s Ash Wednesday Service!  What a wimp I am!

May God be in it all!

Alternative Giving – True Advent

It is hard to believe I haven’t written here since mid November.  The days approaching and beginning Advent have been so full. For the most part, full has also been good.  Good conversations with members of the congregation and some who are new to the community.  These have included fun reflections with congregation members on alternative giving as we prepared for our Advent/Christmas congregational dinner.  I have been touched in hearing peoples stories both before, during, and after the dinner discussion.  So many of our folks are creative and thoughtful in giving.  People have shared their practices of “green” giving, and of giving handmade gifts.  They have shared their passion for giving gifts in honor of those they love to organizations that aid people who are struggling.  Some of the organizations highlighted in our celebration on Sunday were:  Global Ministries (of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ), Heifer International, Church World Service, Plowsharing Crafts (Ten Thousand Villages),  Isaiah 58 Ministries (our ecumenical St. Louis urban ministry), Cornerstone Early Learning Center (a wonderful urban child care program).   These are, of course, only a few of the many, many possible ways to give.  One person shared that she and her husband are giving people a tree ornament with a wildlife image and the note that a gift has been given in their honor to a wildlife preservation organization that is important to them.  Another shared that last year she and her husband gave canvas shopping bags and puff paints so that people could decorate their own shopping bags.  This year they are giving energy saving lightbulbs in reusable containers.  Last year my husband gave me a gift certificate to my favorite second hand clothing shop.  He knows that I get much more joy out of a “real find” in recycled clothing than something expensive and new.

Tonight when my husband and I were purchasing some wrapping paper, he said “Well, I don’t know how we’re going to wrap a water buffalo anyway!”  He was referring to our bulletin board bearing the Church World Service line “Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a water buffalo.”

After  Sunday’s dinner, someone came up to me and said that in our discussion she was reminded of how important it is to be able to receive graciously when we are more comfortable giving.  How true that is.

In recent weeks we have received some wonderful gifts for “Compton Cares” our effort to make our congregation’s building more accessible for our ministries.  People are so generous and truly want to give.  I am deeply moved by this passion for Christ’s ministry in this place.

I have a sense in this Advent, that many are truly welcoming the Christ who comes into the world with healing and love.

Autumn Leaves

What a wonderful morning! A small group of us gathered at the church to rake leaves. We had not planned this for today, but quickly pulled together a group when we found out that the city would be picking up leaves on our street on Sunday. It is one of those perfect blue sky autumn days. The yellow, orange, and red leaves that glowed in the trees just days ago, now cover the ground. In about an hour and half we had the church yard raked, and one of the flower beds mulched. Then we placed the new park benches given to the church by a generous member and garden lover!

As our lawn and garden area is still developing, the placement of the benches required an eye to the future as well as an value of the present. The church faces on a major busy street. In front of the church is a bus stop, where people wait and disembark all day. There is no shelter or seat at this bus stop. Therefore our benches may provide a place of rest in the shade when the summer heat is oppressive. We have had times of prayer and caring conversation outdoors. We want the garden to invite people out of the building and into natures and the sounds of the city around us. We wanted the benches to invite conversation. Therefore we placed them to create a conversation place, where people may not only sit side by side, but face each other in comfort to talk. Would the benches generally face the street or the church? Look out to the activity of the city or toward the church gardens and building? We ended up with a little of both, but more of a look toward the peaceful garden circle where the Peace Pole will stand.

Conversation this morning was wonderful and the church is a little more welcoming for the work done.