During the coronavirus lockdown in NSW, I recorded a sermon/homily to send out to congregation and other members so in that way, our church services continued.
It was my expectation that as the lockdown eased there wouldn’t be a need any more for these regular emails as people would return to church. However, my sermons had begun to spread so many people asked me to continue recording them.
However, as the lockdown eased, I recommenced our church services under canvas as, according to the rules of social distancing, more people could fit there than would be able to be admitted into the church.
So, for the past few weeks I have been both preparing my online sermon and conducting Sunday services under the tent.
What the last few Sundays have shown me is that many congregation members feel particularly exposed under the “big top” because they are in the middle of all the action of my Foundation in full meal mode.
I particularly began to notice a large number of our “guests” standing around the edges of the open walls of the tent so they were looking in and watching the action.
This did not worry me at all as I am used to being “out there” but for some congregation members this all seemed a bit threatening.
I had also begun to notice that as our “guests” were watching many of them became uncharacteristically silent and contemplative. Others would talk in hushed tones.
What really moved me was that during the Holy Communion part of our service, many “guests” moved from standing around to coming forward and collecting the bread and the wine which we were distributing in coronavirus sealed packets. It was like they were waiting for that moment to come forward and collect.
I really thought of them as “the people of the shadows”. The invisible people our society walks past every day and ignores. They might show signs of irritation if they are begging on the street but generally they walk past them as if they are invisible. Conversely, many of these “people of the shadows” don’t feel there is any place for them in society. Many of them cease reading street signs or looking at advertisements because they feel they don’t contain anything of relevance for them.
“The people of the shadows” are ignored and ignore.
I then woke up to the fact that to have people in the shadows you need people in the light.
In other words, the one group of people needs the other.
My dilemma then became how to keep the light on to invite in the “people in the shadows”. This is not as easy as it seems because the light highlights the people in the light and makes many of them feel exposed and uncomfortable.
It is probably a dilemma without any solution. If I pander to those in the light, I will lose the “people in the shadows”.
To me the “people in the shadows” are very important.
Social researcher Hugh Mackay says that survey after survey show that Australians love to drive by churches on Sunday morning and see the gaggle of parishioners outside. They mightn’t necessarily want to join but enjoy seeing them there.
I guess that gaggle of individuals are signs that there is more to life than just mindless living.
Years ago when I found the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, I thought I had found my home and the people there were my family. Actually, they were more than my family and gave me a sense of belonging and being I had been yearning for all my life.
However, those early days of working flat out there had its consequences and I became quite ill. I had picked up a virus from one of the street people I was helping.
I was forced to go back to my family for six months to recuperate.
Over that time many of the people I knew at the Wayside Chapel fell away as was usual because people were always coming and going. However, when I was well enough to try my hand again volunteering at the Wayside Chapel, my confidence had fallen away so much that I really had to pull myself together to turn up outside there. My confidence was so low I had become a “person of the shadows” myself and I can remember standing on the opposite side of the road to the Chapel watching the reflection of the people coming and going in the shop windows I was staring at. It meant to all intents and purposes I had my back to the Chapel but was intensely watching who was going in and out.
As time passed, I felt safe enough to go inside and was welcomed warmly. Those there were really pleased to see me and in no time at all I felt part of the “familyhood” again.
That is why I am so passionate about bringing people in from “the shadows”. I know how empty, lonely and confused being in the shadows can be.
Decades later at my huge Christmas Day lunch for Sydney’s poor, needy, homeless and lonely I would notice a number of those more damaged homeless people would sit on the wall on the opposite side of the road to my lunch watching what was going on and, I guess wanting to be part of it. I would always make a point of going and sitting with them so they would feel safe enough to become part of the celebrations. Little did I then realise I was actually bringing them into the light.
Up until now I had never thought of the people in the light and I realise now that being in the light need not be all that great either. It can be very exposing.
In fact, when push comes to shove, we are all just people. We all have a need, a huge need, to feel part of a community. That however, takes effort, it takes turning ourselves around and opening ourselves up to the other, who is really quite like us, just different. To accept one another we need to put ourselves aside a bit and listen to the other person’s story in a non-judgmental way. That is called compassion. It is what saved me and is what brought all those who came out of “the shadows” to share Holy Communion with all those in the light.
At this moment I haven’t resolved the issue of how to bring the people of light and the people of the shadows together. There is some pressure on me to take the church service back into the church so those in the light feel safe. I am hoping us all sitting in this dilemma brings a resolution.
Being there for all people is not easy!
By the way, here is one of my sermons/homilys:
Please email me if you would like to receive them every week. You are, of course, welcome to my church service under “the tent”.