A deacon preaches the gospel: a continuing reflection on homelessness in San Francisco

Further to last week’s reflection, I did take part with thousands of others in last Wednesday’s protest of the excesses surrounding the Super Bowl — the thousand private jets at SFO, the $600 rooms, the $1,000 tickets, the spike in human trafficking, the transformation of our downtown into an altar of sorts to the Golden Calf of corporate greed, and, most grievous of all, the sweeping away of our homeless sisters and brothers like so much trash, lest the sight of them offend our wealthy visitors or put the lie to the Potemkin Village that was our city last weekend.

For two hours, I stood in silence, holding up the familiar words of Matthew 25 – “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or…” Behind me were young people with their tents. Threatened with arrest if they placed them on the ground — thus breaking an anti-camping ordinance — they held them aloft those two hours. Before me, not ten feet away, were row upon row of police in riot gear. Though I spoke not a word, we communicated eyeball to eyeball, and I sensed that at least some of them were with us in our plea for affordable housing and for health and social services for the least among us. I could not, however, avert my eyes from the high rise across the Embarcadero, the merry-makers in other tents marked “Visa” and the bank card’s light show on the high rise above.

Soon enough we began our march around the perimeter of “Super Bowl City,” as the drizzle turned to rain, the police protecting the merry-makers within, we appealing to the passers-by outside, gaining strength and affirmation that we were not alone. Arriving back where we started and quietly dispersing, I took a moment to thank the police I had been facing.

They and the powers-that-be who had deployed them had taught me what ministry is all about and what we’re called to do: to go out, as Francis, the one in Rome, has urged, among the sheep, returning, as a shepherd should, smelling like the sheep; to go, as Michael, our Presiding Bishop, has urged, to where the congregation is waiting; and to always preach the gospel, as that other Francis had urged, using words only if necessary.

Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday, I, our other Night Ministry ministers, and our homeless ushers did just that…again breaking bread at Open Cathedral in the midst of the sweeps that the mayor and the Chronicle insist are not happening. And, while the two bicycle officers who had intruded on our Eucharist two Sundays ago peddled by silently, other police in vans and on foot, cleared UN Plaza and our finger park of the homeless who might have been seen by visiting fans making their way to the big screen on Civic Center Plaza.

Distributing the communion bread and grape juice and, later, lunch and donated clothes, I was satisfied, tears behind my eyes, that I’m doing what a deacon – no, a Christian – is called to do: to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, the lonely - and, I always add, the marginalized and ostracized - and to interpret to the church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.

That’s what I’m trying to do here – to tell the church, without fear or shame, that, in our dog-eat-dog world, in that waiting congregation, God’s people are hurting. They need more than our words, our prayers, and our checks. They need us to stand with them – physically - shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-hand, in love and solidarity for the elusive justice that, as Cornell West has said, is the public face of love. 

Photos by Brett Wilkins, “Moral Low Ground”— http://morallowground.com/2016/02/04/protesters-tacklehomelessness-outside-san-franciscos-super-bowl-city/