A few years ago I was walking along Burrard Street in Vancouver in the early morning hours when I saw across across the street from me on one of the churches a huge banner proclaiming, "God is alive in the heart of the city."
I had no problem with the words on the banner, but I immediately thought of the homeless who would be unable to seek refuge in God's house because the doors were locked. Churches have generally kept their doors locked for years now except when open for Sunday services and other stipulated times ostensibly to keep the "bad" people out.
Perhaps I watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame too many times and looked at the church -- no matter the denomination -- as the last refuge for the scoundrel. At times in my less than perfect life, I have been so grateful when I have found the church door open and I could enter, rest and pray.
Anyway, as usual I digress. My walk along Burrard Street came to mind for two reasons methinks: the government of British Columbia announced once again that it plans to do something about the Downtown Lower East Side, and the horrible conditions there; and, yesterday U.S. president, Barack Obama outlined a mortgage plan to help his citizens who may or have already become homeless in this time of economic crisis.
Shortly after I was elected as the faculty representative to the Board of Governors at College of the Rockies, I convinced Dr Wm Berry Calder, the president, to let me go to Vancouver and look at outreach education programs in the Downtown Lower East Side.
I visited the Carnegie Centre and First United Church right in the heart of the area, after walking from my hotel. It was an overwhelming experience but in the midst of the misery, I met many dedicated people working to make each day a little better for those who had fallen through society's cracks. And yes, the doors of the church were open and some homeless people were resting on the pews. And students were learning too.
I also visited the Gathering Place, a living room for those who need it in downtown Vancouver. There people can get a shower, wash their clothes, have a meal, read, shoot pool, work out it in the fitness centre and get advice and counselling, and of course, just visit and be among people. I have also seen some of the poetry written and art work created by folks at the Gathering Place. Amazing!
Whatever our circumstances today -- whether we relate best to the citizens of the Downtown Lower East Side in an otherwise beautiful city or are facing the prospect of job loss and foreclosure on a mortgage or are still sitting in a comfortable pew, I am sure there are times when we felt homeless even when we had a place to live.
In these challenging times I believe it is time to throw the doors open so that the banner rings true, "God is alive in the heart of the city" -- no matter where we live!
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