Nearly ten years ago, I trekked down to Richmond to visit a Virginia Supportive Housing Project. Virginia Supportive Housing is a group that develops small affordable apartments across the state for people overcoming homelessness. Their model is unique in that they intentionally build on site supports into their operations to enhance the sustainability of those who live there. I have learned so much from them through the years. With their help, Micah developed its own version of supportive housing, which so far operates mainly from scattered site units across the community vs. the VSH model—a single building or developed piece of land.
I have vivid memories of that inaugural visit, and not because of what I learned about supportive housing operations. It was because of the opportunities I saw them have to care for people, in contrast to some of the things I was doing at the time. The day before my visit, for example, one of our very disabled neighbors had gotten herself stuck underneath the bridge. She didn’t walk well and had slid down the hill several days prior, further injuring herself. Without food, water or the ability to get back up the hill and to a bathroom, she was a royal mess when someone found her. I also remember having to leave early from Richmond that day because a huge snowstorm was coming in. I spent much of the next couple of days hunkered down in a church fellowship hall so that the 40 or so of our neighbors on the street did not freeze to death.
The scene that sticks out from my Virginia Supportive Housing visit, however, is the bus load of people who lived in one of their apartment buildings loading up to go on a tacky Christmas light tour. They were as excited as a gaggle of teenagers; and I was awestruck with the driver’s diligence, herding them to their seats and making sure no one was left behind. I dreamed of the day that the work of our churches would not just be about helping our neighbors to survive, but creating moments where they could find joy, hope and peace in their everyday lives. .
There are many times already that Street Church has caused me to think we were moving in this direction. But Sunday, giving our neighbors the opportunity to be VIPs at a FredNats baseball game might be the closest we have come thus far.
I cannot say that even I have had the opportunity to watch a baseball game from an air conditioned suite, complete with catering, a fridge full of sodas and our own waitress. Can you imagine the awe of our friends who have spent so many nights sleeping outdoors, that imagining themselves in a house again was once a stretch? One of our neighbors had the opportunity today to bring her 16-year-old daughter. She had never even been to a baseball game in her life, and she could not stop saying how amazing it was. They were all so excited to have the chance to experience the new stadium in such a special way. Many thanks to Steve and Carol Dubois for making the experience possible.
I love that such an opportunity for our neighbors fell on the coat tails of this morning’s robust conversation about Pentecost. Although the Acts 2 passage is often known as a reversal of God’s division of language in the Tower of Babel story (Geneses 11:1-9), the gust of wind and tongues of fire that we have come to know as the Holy Spirit do not necessarily eliminate differences. People do not all of a sudden begin speaking the same language again. The spirit makes it possible for them to understand each other, despite their differences. The Pentecost story is, therefore, an affirmation that whatever voice and language in which we worship, God connects, understands and embraces all who call on the name of the Lord.
It is a good reminder on this birthday of the church, that our call to Micah Street Church is not aimed at erasing differences. It is to validate those who may be different than members traditionally found in our mainline churches. We cannot and should not seek to eliminate the experiences that have informed who our neighbors are, but we can meet them in their context, seek to understand and appreciate the ways they too are speaking to God, and allow the Holy Spirit to work through that relationship.
Pastor Chelsea reminded our community this week that the movement of the Holy Spirit does not always have to occur in the charismatic way it showed up on Pentecost in the days following Christ’s ascension. It can be as simple as offering up one or more fruits of the spirit, she said. Any time we show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control the Holy Spirit is at work.
I’m always inspired at how the simplicity of Street Church encourages such fruit. It is love in the volunteers who can serve breakfast at Street Church, but allow a neighbor to lead. It is joy in the new experiences, like baseball games, that our community makes possible. It is in the kindness of those who work with our neighbors to pick out fabric for the altar on special days like Pentecost. It is goodness in the faces of children who drop by for street church and get so excited about passing our offering basket. You get the idea…
Yes, the Holy Spirit is charismatic. But what a gift there is in the simple ways she participates in spaces we seek to understand each other. Might we be unified, might we be one, without erasing difference. Could we, instead, amplify the voices that have long since believed that anyone was listening and in our hearing draw closer to God and to each other.
“Before Pentecost people could be moved by the Holy Spirit,” our neighbor Chris said Sunday. “But they couldn’t be full of the Holy Spirit.”
I think our neighbors often experience church in that way. They are moved by the spirit in the small encounters they have with our congregations through community meals, the open doors, the shelter in the cold. But survivalism required by their homelessness and poverty often separates them from the rhythms and patterns of a life in which they can be full of the Holy Spirit.
A subtle banter among our neighbors followed Chris’s remark. Our neighbors wondered aloud whether or not the Holy Spirit could leave once it found a place in our heart. “If we make the wrong choices, go down the wrong path, or stray from the Holy Spirit how do we ever get it back,” they wondered?
“Maybe the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave you; although, we might leave the Holy Spirit.” Pastor Chelsea said. “Once Holy Spirit captures your heart it never leaves. The spirit is always there if we want to access it.”
“You can go far down the path and not feel like God is in it.” Chris conceded. “God is waiting patiently. The spirit never leaves, but it can’t make you do something you don’t want to do.”
No matter what path our neighbors are on, I like to think the many ways the fruits of the spirit reveal themselves through Street Church each week are good reminders of a God who is ever-present and always seeking. Might they know the relentless pursuit of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through us, and come to know the power of their own voice as we seek to love and learn from it.
Thanks be to God,