We read these verses in the thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel:
4 So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist.5 Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.
Those verses rose from my heart this morning as I awakened. The uniform for today was not my customary black suit and clerical collar, but rather a pair of blue jeans and a hoodie. I made my way to the First Presbyterian Church of Deerfield for my shift at P.A.D.S. – Public Action to Deliver Shelter. Our parish was staffing the third Sunday as it has for quite a few years now. Mine was the last shift – 4 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.
I have been aware of the PADS program for many years. In a previous appointment, our church building was a PADS site, offering food and shelter to men every Wednesday from
October to April. Andrea drew me into participation through her membership in The LINKS, Incorporated, an international, not-for-profit corporation, consisting of nearly 14,000 professional women of color who are committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry.Her chapter, South Suburban Chicago (IL) Chapterof the LINKS, Incorporated, through their National Trends and Services committee went beyond just providing meals for the PADS’ guests. They arranged for flu shots, foot care and shoes, toiletries and other necessities. This morning was my first, though, where I had volunteered to work.
I arrived early so I could get some orientation from those completing their shift –
12 a.m. – 4 a.m. As this was my first time, I wanted to know the lay of the land, the schedule and any other thing I might need to know. I was thankful for them and for those who were working the shift with me – veterans to aid me, the rookie, with the promise of hazing as a part of my orientation. As we worked, I got them to tell me their stories, why they would get up early in the morning to do this. There was a wide range of answers, not all altruistic, but acknowledging that this was important work. I want to thank all from Christ UMC who helped from 5 Sunday evening to early this morning. They are truly angels through the night.
My fellow staff members and I set out breakfast, made coffee (yuck – we all know that’s a waste of good water!) and then woke up 19 men, women and children. Yes, children, who should not have to get up at 5:15 to catch a bus – and it wasn’t a school bus! Handed a lunch, they headed out with their mothers to who knows what the day held. The children were shy, quiet, very polite. For the most part, every one of the PADS’ guest was protective of the children, helping mothers move them along. That’s an indication of the length of time they had been together and the community that had formed among them.
As they ate and prepared to leave, I helped with clean-up. Bagging used bedding, stacking foam rubber pads that had served as mattresses, taking out the garbage and all other vestiges of how the room had been used. One woman came up to me asking if I were a volunteer there. After learning I was, she shook my hand, said, “Thank you”, and disappeared up the stairs to the bus. She came back a few minutes later for on final spot check to make certain no one was left behind. She disappeared up the steps again and was gone.
As we finished our work, my comrades and I did final checks, wished each other well and we also disappeared into the early morning with our thoughts. And these were my whispered prayers:
Thank you, God, for First Presbyterian Church and their willingness to open their doors that those in need of food and shelter could find it in their building.
Thank you, God, for Christ United Methodist Church where I am blessed to be pastor and walk with these men and women, boys and girls. It was they who came to welcome guests and extend hospitality.
Please keep these dear ones safe through this day, especially the children, and may there be a place for food and shelter this evening.
But there was a haunting thought in the back of my mind. PADS is a wonderful program and it is wonderful that church buildings and other structures are available for overnight stays and there is a cadre of volunteers who give of their time and energy. But we sometimes assuage ourselves with this program without ever confronting the underlying causes and asking ourselves what are the circumstances that cause these men and women and children, these families to be without a home. Unless we ask that question, some of the children I saw this morning might grow up and become volunteers at a PADS shelter or, even worse, might grow up and be a PADS guest October through April.