Every once in a while a person has opportunity to touch the holy of life where compassion is lived out in such a profound way that it causes new directions – new ways to understand or view life. It’s almost like looking from the underside of a tapestry where you see the leftover thread, the knots, the bulkiness of material and yes, even the mistakes.
That’s the way it was for me in April, 1989, when I travelled to Washington, D.C. with nine other members of the National Evangelism Team for the United Church of Canada to join in the mission of The Church of the Saviour. The Rev Gordon Cosby and Elizabeth O'Connor led enriching seminars on a daily basis.
I went to a worship service every day of the week, often led by the poor, the abandoned and the oppressed. The message was simple: "God loves you." We sang songs of grace and encouragement. We prayed for each other. We shared communion with everyone. At different times during worship, destitute persons would testify how God was working in his or her life through someone from the store-front mission. A prostitute might have been off the street for six weeks and she would give thanks. Shoplifters, sexual assaulters, salesmen, housewives – it made no difference who you were or what you had done. The important thing was to celebrate God’s healing love together.
People served and gave leadership out of a sense of God’s call. When they discovered and identified a particular call, they tested it in prayer with a small group of people. If it proved to be valid, then a mission group was formed and the ministry was enacted.
Some of the ongoing missions at the Church of the Saviour are
-An employment agency for the unemployable. -A tutoring service for children having difficulty in school. -A low income housing directory (fully staffed). -A medical van that leaves the clinic every day at 4 p.m. to take staff to look under bridges, in culverts and alleys looking for people who have been hurt in fights, starving, or in some need. -A clinic staffed with doctors and nurses who try to meet the needs of those discharged from city hospitals with no address, the ability to care for themselves medically. -A medical centre for outpatient (street) needs. -A drama group. -Child-care centre. -Nightly meals, communion and ministry to street people.
- The Book room.
-Restaurant with low priced meals on Columbia Road. -“Andrews House” for visitors to the district.
This is the perfect example of how faith and works becomes ministry.
I know we don't have to go to Washington to see street fights, drug wars, prostitution, poverty, etc. All we need to do is look around us, but living in it is somehow different than looking at it.
Washington is seen by a part of the world as:
-an affluent city of white marbled monuments. -home of the National Cathedral and Nation’s Embassies. -playground for the powerful, platform for politicians, wealthy lobbyists and bureaucrats.
- facilities for world leaders to dialogue, make decisions and give leadership.
- a place to live, go to school, raise families, work and live a happy life.
Washington is seen by some people as:
-a place of unemployment. -murder capital of the USA. -homeless and drug addiction. -a city plagued with social, racial division, the contradiction of the rich and the poor.
While walking up the street through graffiti walls, littered alleys, muddy weedy area, the drug-mind altered poor, one can easily see the manicured lawns and the pillared entries of the rich. Every city, situation and relationship has two sides.
Sitting on a weathered beaten window-sill late at night after worshipping with the street community, I think of the woman who had been off the street one week. Sam asked her to serve communion and as she bent to serve me, a small cup tipped and the red fluid spilled across her hand and mine.
I depart physically from this place, and yet, I will never totally leave it, for regardless of where I go, I will return in memory to touch the joy, the family, the wholeness, that was shared with me in brokenness.
Written following this experience of living in community, I will often sign my name now with a small j. to symbolize humility. Donna j. Mann
Living in Community/Living in Mission with the Church of the Saviour, Washington, D.C.
(1989) Donna j Mann
Coming into the Light
Donna j Mann
God, you hold me
as I risk new experiences,
as I follow your lead,
as I accept the uncomfortable, as I explore these things
to find your truth.
God, you come to me
through the sad eyes of the lost,
God, you touch me
through the addicted,
the sex trafficer,
God, you watch me and make me feel no guilt for my wholeness, yet
you call me to share out of it.
You ask me to use my strength, to take down the borders that limit.
You show me unconditional love that reveals itself in compassionate acts.
God, you confront me to seek out those who have not discovered
their need for you.
You challenge me to speak with others who have not found a voice
to honour you or themselves.
You convict me to share with others that which has been graciously shared with me.
You teach me to free those in exile and you show the way to do this.
Your people have proven there is hope:
- in waiting for a promise
- in listening for a word
- in receiving a touch
- and when I lose hope, you send me to find your promises in your Word.
The Spirit is here in her fullness, giving birth to wholeness.
Church of our Saviour - Washington, D.C.