There was an after school program at the church I served before Grace. It was established primarily for the children of immigrants from places like Honduras and Pakistan whose families had settled in our blue collar town. One of the families ran a restaurant. Many times when I’d go there for take-out their youngest would be sitting in a booth watching TV because he had nowhere else to be. There were also a few kids who stayed in the staff lounge of the local CVS, sometimes till 10:30 at night while their mom worked and a girl in 6th grade who was by herself at home late into the night for the same reason.
Even though it was only for a three hours a day, the afterschool program was a haven for these kids and many even became counselors after they aged out. My own children loved one bright and funny sixteen-year old counselor who let them hang off of him like a human jungle gym. His mother cleaned houses, worked at a bagel shop and every year became more afraid of what the future would bring for her son, who she brought to the US as a baby illegally so he could have a better life. Would he be able to go to college or start a career without a social security number? Or would he clean houses, work at bagel shop and live in the shadows too as his mom had chosen to for his sake?
It’s because of church that I wound up worrying about this boy right along with his mother. It’s also because of church that I’d sneak to the back of the CVS with crayons and coloring books I’d just bought from the cashier mom for those kids who weren’t supposed to be the staff longue but were. And it’s because of church I’d drive that latch key child home, make her show me she had my cell number in her phone and try to get her to laugh before she locked the door.
When you go to church you wind up seeing people you might not have noticed before. Because of the Breakfast Program you know the name of that guy who sleeps on the bench and you call out his name when you pass, asking if he has gloves and a hat. Because you go to the Good Friday Stations of the Cross procession, you know where people were killed with guns in Jersey City because you prayed for them on the street where it happened. And because you’re hunting through your house right now for extra night stands and kitchen items to help set up a transitional home for asylum seekers who we be guests at the Church of the Incarnation you aren’t just reading about refugees, you’re creating a physical and personal space in your life to receive them.
As our country prepares to make policy changes that will potentially have a profound effect upon the poor and marginalized, I thank God all the more for the gift of church-- where Jesus presses us to see often unnoticed and forgotten people with the eyes of our hearts, remembering that whenever we serve the least among us we serve him.
In the months to come, may God open our hearts and our hands even more to care for the stranger.