Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Angels Unawares?

We had two visitors to Good Shepherd this past weekend. And both of them challenged our sense how caring we are.

The first was an intoxicated Aboriginal man. He banged on the church’s front door during our Saturday morning Stephen Ministry training class. He asked when church service started. I told him it was tomorrow at 8:45 and 11:00 and that he was welcome to come to join in. Then he just stood and stared at me. After a minute or two he asked for something to eat. So I gave him three apples, the only food I had in the fridge. Then he sat down on a chair in our “Welcome Area.”

A woman from the Stephen Ministry class sat down with him to talk. We resumed our class in a nearby room. Suddenly we heard the man yell “Somebody help me!” and myself and a man from the class ran out to the hallway. The woman who was sitting with him was pale.

She whispered to me “He said he is suicidal and asked me for a gun.”

Not knowing exactly what to do I called 911 and explained the situation. They asked if he was drunk and if he was native. I said “yes” on both counts. They said they would send a police car around.

10 minutes later a cop arrives. He obviously knew the man.

“Hi Ron, are you causing trouble around here.”

I said to the cop, “No, we called because he said he was suicidal.”

“When Ron gets drunk he says lots of things he doesn't.” The cop replied, dismissing my concern. “Sorry pastor,” the cop continued, “I’ve got no compassion for these people.”

Then the cop parked Ron in the police car and took him away.

We said a prayer for Ron and the class resumed.

But the class was wondering if we did the right thing by calling the cops. My training had taught me that once the person says he/she is suicidal then all pastoral bets are off and I have to notify authorities. But the class raised good questions. Did we “care” for Ron as Jesus would have? Was calling the police, who are known for their racism toward aboriginal people, the best way to handle the situation? Was it at coincidence that he showed up when we were learning how to be Christian caregiver? Was he an angel who had visited us unawares, as the bible said might happen?

The next day, another young man came to our door. He came to Alberta from Newfoundland because he was told he had a job here. But when he arrived, the job evaporated. Then, he learned that both his parents were killed by a drunk driver back home on the Rock. He felt an inner compulsion to come to a Lutheran church.

A group of people sat with him and prayed with him. We invited him downstairs for coffee and cookies. One gentleman offered to buy him a plane ticket home, but the fellow initially declined. But later, after church, said that he, perhaps had refused the kind offer too soon. But by then, the man from the church had gone home. We gave him a ride to the bus station where he was going to by a ticket to Medicine Hat and hitch a ride with one of the truckers at the truck stop.

We’ve been asking ourselves if we failed these two men.

It feels as if our ministry is taking a turn and we are going down a road that we didn’t expect. As we think about our new building and what we want to use it for, how do we remain faithful to our calling as a community of disciples of Jesus Christ, the poor man from Nazareth? How do we reach out to most hurting around us from our comfortable perch in the suburbs among the big box stores and half-million dollar houses? Are we merely baptizing people’s affluence or are we offering an alternative vision for the world? God’s vision – the vision of the kingdom of God, where all are welcome, renewed, healed, cleansed, and sent.

Good Shepherd is a remarkably caring community. I've been taught how to be a disciple by the witness of many people in this congregation. But I'm always wondering were we can grow. And those areas walked through our doors last weekend. The discomfort many people feel is a holy discomfort. We want to do more, we want to be more loving, we certainly do not want to see hurting people lead away from our church in the back seats of police cars, or do we want to see grieving people hitching rides from strangers to make it home to bury their parents. We want to do more. We know we can do more.

Maybe this discomfort shows that we are growing more fully into our mission statement that begins “Rooted in the gospel, our caring community…”

1 comment:

Jake said...

There's not much else you could have done if the first man was intoxicated. If he would have been sober, you may have been able to explain that you needed to call the police to get him the help he needed. I've done that successfully before. But you were right; once a threat of physical harm to self or others is made, you have to call.

With the second man, it's difficult to know what would have been the best response. Forgive me for being cynical, but something doesn't feel right. Yes, I've been conned more times than I care to admit. I still help, but now I make calls first to check out every story.

Possibly this is an opportunity for mission. You don't want to duplicate efforts, but is there a service that is not being offered in the wider community for those in need? In some places, an inter-faith effort through which every congregation channels their energy works well. And, possibly a larger group would be able to do some advocacy work regarding root causes.

Just a couple of thoughts off the top of my head.