Many who care for marginalized neighbors in our community will remember Dr. Andy Moore. Andy had an identity, not only as a local dentist, but as someone wiling to respond when an uninsured person had a tooth emergency. Andy understood how much healthy teeth mattered for someone to embrace their fullness in the image of God. I cannot tell you how many times I saw him take a grumpy, defeated soul from debilitating pain to a place of hope and peace. Andy offered up his God-given gift of dentistry to make new the many in our community who could not afford care. Without his help, our neighbors gifts would have been limited and their lives likely cut short by the complications that can come from failing teeth. Fredericksburg lost a true servant of both God and neighbor when Andy died suddenly from a heart attack in 2019.
Another of Andy’s distinctive traits was his love for PT cruisers. He bought one of the first models when they hit the market in 2001, and he was hooked. When Andy died, he left behind a beautiful two-toned 2010 model with a thin red stripe. His wife Janet couldn’t part with the car for some time; but when she heard George’s story and his car troubles, she was inspired to continue sharing Andy’s love for neighbor by gifting the car to George.
“It’s what papa would have wanted,” she said.
As I drove George to the DMV to transfer the title this week, we talked a bit about what the car meant to him. He was excited about the job opportunities that a reliable vehicle would bring and the freedom that comes from not having to depend on others for transportation. But his ideas for how those wheels would make a difference did not stop there. George saw the many ways the car could help others with rides, maintenance projects and resources that would not only work to his benefit, but that of others and also God.
“I want to give back to God what God has given me,” he said. “When are we going to start tithing at street church?”
In his newfound stability and growing identity as a leader at Street Church, George recognized that even the few resources he did have were not his alone. We talked about the many forms of giving and that not all of our neighbors were at the same place in their spiritual and economic identity.
“If we are going to take up an offering,” I told him, “we have to find a way that everyone feels that they have something to give.”
We have taken great care with Street Church to affirm gifts, build confidence and encourage strengths. Although we appreciate the value of traditional functions of church, there are some components, such as an offering, that haven’t yet made sense to incorporate. George’s wisdom this week, however, has had all of us thinking about when and how our community might be ready.
This morning’s scriptures took us through several considerations of what it means to find new life and new identity in relationship with God. Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah in their new understanding of God’s plans for them (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16). The disciples learned the sacrifice that would be required in fully embracing their identity as followers of Christ (Mark 8:31-36).
Likewise, it was abundantly apparent today how our neighbors are pursuing and claiming the identities in which they are learning they are worthy.
James, who has been absent from our community for several weeks, was back today. He couldn’t wait to dig through his wallet and whip out a long awaited walker’s ID. It may seem trivial to think of government issued identification as a symbol of transformation. But this is a community whose loss of tangible items, such as birth certificate, social security card and other official document is not just an inconvenience, its a show stopper. James has been unable to access his money, sign a lease on apartment and accomplish other meaningful tasks for months, simply because of the hoops he’s had to jump through to prove his identity. With much advocacy and a friendly mobile DMV team that came to Micah recently, James having his identification this morning is a symbol of the ways he is being made whole.
Darren went out of his way to show me his new badge from ServiceMaster’s, where he started working about a month ago. It has been very difficult for Darren to think about working again since Sarah, his wife of seven years, passed away from a sudden respiratory illness about a year ago. Sarah was a caretaker of sorts for Darren. After she died, her brothers and children moved out of the house they were living in. Darren was left alone and grieving. At this year’s homeless person’s Memorial Day observance, he asked if he could take Sarah’s picture home with him. He set it up in the living room and wrapped it with Christmas lights. He’s found a new skip in his step these last few months, and taken great pride in getting back to work. “It gives me comfort to know she’s still there with me, watching over me and keeping me in line,” he said this week.
Arritt shared with the community today that he went by a different name his whole life. He was named after his father, Wilson, and most people have always called him “Beanie.” Both names are painful representations of his past. About a year ago, while staying at the Micah Respite house, he chose to start going by his middle name as a way of moving forward.
“I’m a new person in Christ,” he said, while also acknowledging that it is a lot of work to both claim and live up to that new identity. “I feel like I’m being pulled in two different directions. It’s complicated trying to be new in Christ.”
George, as well, offered a special testimony to our community this morning.
“I was on the wrong path for a long-time,” George said. “People tried to tell me, but I didn’t listen. I had this woodpecker pecking at me all the time to get into trouble.”
“That’s the devil,” someone said.
“Yeah, well I call him woodpecker,” George responded.
When he ended up alone and on the street, Junior Sealock—one of our most chronically homeless men—was the first person to take George in. They slept under the bridge together “and he gave me the encouragement to move forward,” George said. The pandemic saw to it that both George and Junior would make their way to a hotel for shelter.
“Street Church just started showing up, and I would go,” George said. “At first I was there, but I wasn’t really there. Over time I felt at home, and that means I was getting closer to God. Finally, God said ‘enough’ and that made me realize I cannot stay on the road I was on.”
George shared the many ways he knows that God has been with him since he was a child. “I didn’t know then, but I know now that I wouldn’t have made it without God,” he said. “God got me here to give me a chance to say thank you Lord for giving me all these years.”
Jimmy, one of our other neighbors responded to George. “You know that a woodpecker makes a hole in wood,” he said. “What is so significant is that now, he’s pecking against steel. God is steel. And the woodpecker is not succeeding because he can peck a hole in wood, but he cannot peck a hole in steel.”
“And that’s why I need to give back anything I can give,” George said. “It can be money, ourselves, food. We all have something. I’m giving from my heart, not from my pocket because I don’t have a lot in my pocket.”
Pastor Chelsea then led the group in a new movement to our worship experience—a “change” offering. Everyone was given a small unrefined river rock. If you recall, rocks have been a symbol in the baptismal practice for this community, pointing out the transformative power of water to smooth jagged edges. Rocks have also become a tradition at funerals for our neighbors. Friends of those we have lost are invited to take a stone in memory of the gift God gave the world in making that person in God’s image.
As the basket was passed, our neighbors were invited to place either stone and/or pocket change within it. Pocket change will be something our community can use to further claim its budding identity in Christ. Each stone represents a change in someone’s heart, a promise to God to offer themselves in a new way.
“Give God our donations and he will give it back to you three times,” Junior said.
“Whether it is change in the pocket or change in the heart, I’m letting God know He’s coming first in my life,” said George.
At the end of the service, our neighbors bustled to put everything away and clean up. More and more of them are taking great ownership in the set up and break down of our space. An increasing number of new neighbors are joining us each week, and those among us take great pride in having not only a place to come but to bring others, as well.
We counted $18 and some change (get it) in our basket today. Tomorrow, our leadership team will begin talking about how we want to collect and spend our offering to further the work of the kingdom in our community.
In the meantime, George is already making good use of his new identity as a man with wheels. Junior, Bobby and Wayne loaded into that new car today, and George took them home.
Pray for our neighbors and the many ways God is calling them individually and collectively to a new identity in Christ. It is truly a blessing to bear witness to the wondrous work God is doing through those who have long since thought they would ever have a house again, much less a home.
Thanks be to God,