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I keep looking at my phone, waiting for it to ring.
Last week I was late and traveling on one of the busy streets on the Main Line. Now, if you are not from Philadelphia, the Main Line is the geographic designation for a series of Philadelphia suburbs. Google the term Philadelphia Main Line, and you will get a good history. Many do not believe that poverty exists in the Main Line, or at least it is not visible.
It was about 4:00 pm, and I decided to take a shortcut behind a Wawa (Non-Philadelphians - google that also) adjacent to a strip mall. Navigating through the packed alley, I noticed a woman jumping out of a trash bin. In her hands were two loaves of bread, and standing next to the container were two young children. Perhaps 4 and 6. A boy and a girl.
The mother had a smile on her face as she landed on the ground. The children looked at her with a sense of awe. At that moment, all these thoughts were running through my head. Why was she in there? How could this happen? The answers slowly and forcefully filled every inch of my being. I braked and then heard the cussing and the multitude of horns. I stopped and blocked two parked cars; another famous Philly sign was sent my way.
I jogged after her, and she looked at me with a sense of fear and uncertainty. I suspect she recognized the collar and then stopped. I did not ask her why nor how. All I could do was stupidly fumble through my wallet and probably insulted her dignity as a child of God. I offered her some money, and she looked down at her children while accepting it. I had an old receipt and wrote down my cell phone number. I asked her to call, told her we will assist, and if she needed a ride. She said no to the ride and that she will be ok. She looked in my eyes and said - pray for us.
One of the children turned her head and looked at me as they walked away. I can see the look in that child’s eyes. As they disappeared around the corner, I said an Our Father, the Hail Mary, and prayers of petition. I cried all the way to the office. But what good are tears?
I am the Bishop of one of the largest dioceses in the Episcopal Church. We are one of the wealthiest. If we are not out in the community journeying with people, we cannot complain if some question not only our authenticity but also our faith. I tire of the church proclaiming the injustices of the world without willing to be nailed to the cross. Mission nor Christianity cannot simply be outrage on social media and silence on the streets. It is at the foot of the cross is where the love of Christ radiates out into the world.
Yes, the harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few. We need to get dirty, pray, and really, really work. A few dollars out of my wallet will not solve her pain nor poverty. Our diocese will not make a significant impact on poverty, but we have to try. Jesus is sending us out, and we cannot be troubled by hesitation, unknowing, nor excuses. We are called to go deep. We are called to abandon our fears and anxieties about what we will lose and focus on what we will gain. Not to worry about who is deserving but to recognize the beauty of all of humanity.
I know the heart of this diocese. Let’s push off from the shore. Let’s go deep, really deep. It is uncertain, scary and we may be tested, but maybe there we will discover who we are called to be. My cell phone is silent. However, I will keep praying, and we will go into the field. I pray in the darkness of the night, through the veil of her silent tears, she can feel the presence of the Good Shepherd. May she somehow know that there is a community where she is loved, where she belongs, and that we will walk slowly with her on this journey. I wait for the phone to ring, but will not wait to go into the field.