A normal Sunday morning at St. Augustine’s in Tempe usually includes a handful of homeless folks who show up for cup of coffee, a few snacks, a gift card to the local grocery, and communion. The homeless seem to enjoy the safe space. The parish folks are kind and hospitable. Matthew 25:35 is our guide—when we entertain those in need, we entertain Jesus.
A few weeks ago we had a typical Sunday morning that turned even more entertaining. One of our regular homeless visitors, though, was acting a bit out of character. His paradoxical behavior appeared to be sparked by his rare sobriety. During worship service he always sits at the back. This Sunday he sat up front. He and his friends are quiet during the service. This Sunday he commented on my sermon—his timing was impeccable. What he said was probably what other people were thinking just they were unwilling to say it out loud. Then after the Peace we offer blessings. None of the homeless had ever come forward for a birthday, anniversary, or memorial blessing. This Sunday he stepped up for a blessing. Actually he wanted to address the congregation, but I asked him to face me and tell me what he had to say. Of course he spoke loud enough for everyone to hear, which was fine. He told me about the difficulty of his life and how he was trying to do the hard work of making life better. I prayed for him. He thanked me and returned to his seat. A poignant moment—all was well.
At the celebration of communion, I was in my normal place offering the Eucharistic Prayer, facing the people behind the altar. Somewhere in the middle of that Prayer, I saw our friend moving towards the communion rail to my right. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the ushers walk up front and quietly ask him to return to his seat. I could see the homeless man follow the usher to the back. A few minutes later, I felt a presence from my behind my right side approaching the altar. While continuing the Eucharistic Prayer I caught a glimpse of the homeless man tip-toeing across the area behind me. I fully expected him to be standing at my side in a moment. Then from my left, I saw the movement of our music leader heading towards the man. The homeless man quietly followed our musician. The usher was now on the left side of church to help escort the homeless back to his seat. At the distribution of communion, the homeless man was kneeling in front of me, with a curious and happy smile. His face had a gentle feminine hint to it at that moment.
After the service, the usher, our music leader, and I were having a good laugh about the whole affair. The musician, a monk, deacon, and soon to be priest, said, “Ah, the wily Holy Spirit, she showed up today, masking as a homeless man. She is so funny.” Indeed. We never know who will be entertained this day.