I work in a church that is close to downtown. In fact, ‘downtown’ is moving closer to the church as the traditional city centre becomes more gentrified.
We recently had security cameras and new main doors installed at the church, giving us the ability to see who is at the door without them being able to see us. An intercom system allows us to communicate and the push of a button will open the door.
One afternoon this week, just before 4:00 pm, I was in the church alone when a man who looked like he lived on the street came to the door. Seeing him on the monitor, I did nothing, didn’t acknowledge his presence, didn’t make mine known to him. He soon went away.
Another afternoon I needed to go out to pick up some office supplies. As I drove out of the parking lot I saw a rental truck parked along the drive and a man walking from a recessed flowerbed to the truck, doing up his pants. He had obviously relieved himself in the corner of the building. [As often as anyone asks we do allow them to use our washrooms.]
On Friday morning women of the church were meeting for a social time. Our pastor set the doors to open automatically. Within five minutes of doing so an extremely raggedy, dirty, smelly man was standing in the doorway of my office. He wanted to sit down; I suggested he could do so on the couches in the foyer. No, he’d sit in the room next to mine — where two pastors were meeting. They also kindly suggested he could warm up in the foyer. He very soon was back in my office, rambling a stream of consciousness that made no sense to me. It seemed that anything he saw was incorporated into his monologue, for example, when I used the paper cutter he immediately said he could use it to cut off his arm. Finally he went to the foyer, sat on the wooden bench and argued loudly with himself.
When the pastors were finished their conversation our pastor, our custodian and I discussed what to do with our visitor. Our (male) pastor decided to convince him to move on. It took 20 minutes or more, most of that time outside without his coat on a cold day. Our visitor was left at the bus stop with a ticket to ride.
We struggle with how to respond to such incidents. How do we love our neighbour when they smell bad? How do we communicate when they seem to be in another universe? How do we balance our personal and property safety with being welcoming? Especially in this season of advent, when we are reminded that God works in unexpected ways, it’s tough!
Photos from lightstock.com