On Saturday afternoon, Volunteer Park Church members stood under the Alaskan Way Viaduct with our recently acquainted friends. They received a few hygiene kits packed 30 minutes earlier by our gathered community in lieu of our worship service.
A number of things struck me in those moments. I realized that scarcity had in this instance led to a generosity of spirit.
One gentleman, Clarence from Chicago, took a bag for a gently sleeping form, bundle of clothes and blankets in the womb of a creaking shelter. He was his sister’s keeper. We have all heard of stories when the opposite is true, but in that moment we saw the stars and not the inky midnight.
Cities, by virtue of their size and density, magnify the best and worse in humanity. Despite the hardships — poor mental health, addiction, violence — on the streets, there are forceful reminders of goodness if we have eyes to see. We saw and heard a form of community — community, that rent-paying people like myself sometimes dismiss as Pollyanna-ish in a city.
Churches in cities have the unique opportunity to impact the lives of millions of people in relatively close quarters. The privilege extends beyond gospel proclamation, to the mutual complementation in the task of developing resources that magnify the work of God in the city.
At Volunteer Park Church we are convinced that God loves cities, and this certainly includes our own Seattle. We are persuaded the appropriate response to God's city-love is an openness to opportunities large and small, to help alleviate need and practice loving well.
Our communal impulse at Volunteer Park moves us to faithful service, to love our city and seek its flourishing. To that end, the church family after a wonderful Sabbath School lesson, instead of a regular worship service on Sept. 30, had five options for worshipping through actions of love.
I joined a group that took hygiene bags to our friends who are temporarily unhoused in downtown Seattle. Amongst the dozen or so people, we met Melvin. He grew up in Memphis and came north to work on oil rigs in Alaska. He made some good decisions, some bad. At times money came fast and easy, then just as quickly it was gone. He found himself in Seattle longing for a new start. His brothers, sister, father, mother and cousins back in Memphis are all dead.
There was a sense of acute loneliness but still a glimmer of hope: "I'm hoping to find work." Starting all over again with the little energy he has left and his shopping cart of accumulated possessions. It brought him small relief as he shared his story and we listened, a hum of reverence attending us all. He received a hygiene bag with gladness. Then standing under the "cathedral" of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, we prayed together.