Last night was the opening evening of this years synod for the Diocese of BC. I hadn’t intended to go to any of it except the registration time to staff a PWRDF information table, but I ended up going to the opening Eucharist. It was the usual collection of priests, deacons, bishops, and bunch of random lay-keeners… and the Irish Poet.
The Cathedral is a downtown church. We’re not as downtown as the churches that are right beside Our Place, but downtown we are. The south lawn of the Cathedral is a great place to hang out with shopping carts and buggies full of belongings and on cold days like the last few, people living on the street will come inside the church whenever it is open.
Last night was no exception. Mid-way through the service, a bent man in a long jacket carrying a bulky bag over his shoulder, long stringy hair falling in front of his face, walked in and sat down in one of the last pews in a side chapel. The words of the bishop chanting the liturgy were punctuated by loud words and curses from the man who had walked in. I sensed one of the priests sitting a the back head out to speak with a verger who came in to keep an eye on the situation and I hoped that would be all that was needed. I work with this population every day… can’t I have a church service to myself?
As he continued to speak, one of the deacons went over to sit and talk with him. I tried to focus on the words the bishop was saying… “You who sat with outcasts and sinners…” A chuckle escaped me. The irony. The timing. Am I supposed to have a different response than just sitting here and receiving from this service? I just want a break from working with folks like him. I don’t want to do this right now, God. Can’t someone else just deal with this? But no one else really wants to “deal with this” – it is uncomfortable and a little scary. But there were the words of the liturgy… Do we actually get what we are supposed to be and do with the outcasts of our society?
Then it was time to go up for communion. I knelt, elbow to elbow with others – not outcasts – and received the bread and wine. As I walked back to my seat, the deacon who had been sitting with the man at the back of the church got up to take her turn for communion. So I walked over, “Can I sit here?” “Sure, I don’t care. You’re beautiful.” Yeah, how is that for an opener. I sat, we talked. He had an Irish accent and I think I recognized him as the one we call “The Irish Poet” at work. He ranted on about church and religion and how it is all full of bullshit. I agreed, after all, so much of the tradition and trappings associated with church really does seem like a load of bullshit. We talked some more. About smoking, the pope, Beethoven, and various other things.
Then he got agitated and got up, so I walked outside with him. Standing on the front steps, I was shivering in just my sweater, but he didn’t seem to notice the cold. We talked more. Then, just as quickly, the conversation was over. He said he had to pee and was going to pee on the church. I suggested he head around to the side of the building so he wouldn’t be in plain view and he said he didn’t care. “Well, it was nice to talk with you. Have a good evening.” No acknowledgement as he walked away.
Still shivering, I went back inside just as the recessional hymn was ending and all the priests in their fancy robes were congregating at the back of the church, oblivious to the conversations that had been going on out of their line of sight. Despite our best attempts at “reaching out” to the broader community we find ourselves in, I felt a strange disconnect in that 10 step walk from the front steps with the Poet to the back of the nave with the procession. How do we bridge that gap?