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Back in the 1980s there was a man who used to preach in Harvard Square about Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation.  One afternoon as I was passing through the square I heard his familiar voice and it suddenly came to me: “We should be doing that.  My brothers and I should be here as people come up out of the subway, preaching about God’s love like friars in the middle ages in Europe.”  My brothers in my religious community, however, when I suggested to them that we go out into the streets of Cambridge to preach, didn’t think much of my idea.  I didn’t have the courage to go out there on my own.

A few weeks ago, on my day off, I was out campaigning for a friend who is running for state representative.  (And let me make it clear right here that I was doing this as an individual and in a personal capacity, and not on behalf of the diocese or church.)  I handed out cards and talked to folks in an elderly housing complex, went door to door in a neighborhood ringing doorbells and chatted with a woman working in her garden.  I’d worked on political campaigns before but I had never done anything quite like this, just going up to people I didn’t know and starting to talk to them about my friend.  It was a little unnerving.

Late in the afternoon we entered a housing complex in North Cambridge.  A woman in the office gave us permission and we began ringing bells and approaching people on the sidewalks.  Most people looked at me a little curiously in my religious habit and cross, some seemed wary, but most listened to what we had to say. 

At one point we approached a young man sitting on a bench.  I gave him a card and my friend stood talking to him while I went after a group of women and children who had just turned the corner.  After I told the women about my friend and why he was running for office, he called me back to the young man on the bench.  The guy wanted me to pray with him.  The three of us sat on the bench in the September sun, and prayed together.  When I had finished the prayer, he thanked me, and off we went.

It felt good to be there praying with the man.  It felt like I was where I belong, where God wanted me to be, out in the streets with people I had never met before, witnessing to God’s love and comfort.   I think it’s where God probably wants all of us.  

That’s my story.  I’d like to hear your stories, stories of when you have witnessed to God’s love, out on the street, with people you have never met before.  Somehow the sharing of those stories might give us all courage.  Let’s try something new.

M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE
Posted:  10/12/2012

Opinions here and in the comments section are those of the writers.

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I find myself in God-talk at busstops and in cabs. Over the summer, I was at a bus stop with a young man who coughed and coughed. I asked about the cough, he told me that he had prayed to be set free from cigarette addiction, but was too weak to stay away from the smokes. We talked more about healing prayer. I suggested Jesus could hold his hand to give him strength. He needed water and hadn't time to get it from home. I gave him my "extra" bottle. He asked me to pray with him. We started praying and the bus appeared. As we got off at the T station, he found me in the crowd and requested I finish the prayer.
Then there was the time I waited for the RIDE in South Station and a man who had passed out and missed his train decided to talk......

From: Maureen Doyle
Location/Parish: Christ Church, Quincy

When headed to the garage after an appointment at Massachusetts General Hospital a couple of weeks ago, I crossed the path of a man waiting outside the garage in a full neck and shoulder cast which was holding his head erect. He was finishing up a call on his cell phone and I got the impression he was distressed. I stopped and spoke to him, asking how he ended up in that cast. He told me it was the result of disc surgery and months of recovery. He had just received the news his doctor didn't feel it was successful and additional corrective surgery might be required. He was strained as he relayed this information and I immediately began to pray for him as I replied. I offered hope that he wouldn't have to repeat the surgery and assured him that I would keep him in my highest thoughts throughout the day. He was appreciative and I immediately began to see him as God's perfect Spiritual Idea, healthy, healed and whole. The act of praying for another in this way has as great a healing effect for the person praying as it does for the recipient as it involves placing oneself in the hands of Divine Love. I pray for strangers frequently. My long commute affords me countless hours to witness pedestrians and other commuters while I sit in my car, stuck in gridlock. I frequently see someone who looks like they need the benefit of a spiritual lift and so I pray for them immediately and anonymously, right on the spot, making the sign of the cross over them from afar. I believe those random acts of prayerful energy is what is needed in the world today and I hope, in fact, I feel certain, that those random acts of prayerful kindness are shared by others throughout each day.

From: Catherine Mitchell
Location/Parish: North Shore of Boston

Years ago when I was trying to reduce the illegal drug abuse among young folks, I sat on a bridge in Winchester, MA, waiting for the high school kids to walk by. My friend, Dr. Don McLean had started a program in Winchester to combat drug abuse and I was curious how the young folks reacted to it. I was planning to use his program in South Dartmouth where I lived then. I spoke to them, many gathered around wondering what was going on--I spent at least an hour there, we had a wonderful dialogue - not about drugs but about life and caring for each other. I still have special thoughts about those young folks. Drug abuse is still a serious problem and I don't know what is going on with those young folks but God knows and I can pray that they are doing fine and trust that God is caring for them.

From: Jane Pereira
Location/Parish: Trinity Church, Marshfield, MA

As a brother of another monastic community in the Episcopal Church I'm heartened by Tom's sharing of his Franciscan-style experience and will convey it to the brothers at West Park. Thank you.

From: Roy Parker
Location/Parish: Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

It is a powerful act to be present to people, especially to the vulnerable, and to witness that everyone is valuable in God's sight. That is often expressed in generalities. But when companions are part of our immediate worshipping communities, the witness is awesome....our Bishops, especially Tom's sharing,and clergy, those involved in Ecclesia and the Monday Lunch community (which includes so many volunteers from churches in our diocese), and others who spend time listening---it makes me feel like the Kingdom is near.

From: Bob Greiner
Location/Parish: St. Paul's Cathedral, Boston

With books, headphones, cell phones, Ipads, MP3 Players, newspapers, very few people are aware of who or what is right in front of them. For a short period of time I used headphones while walking or on the bus. However, I realized my connection with and awareness of others and creation was missing. Because I don't wear headphones while walking to work, I'm able to say "Good Morning" to the people I see on a daily basis on my way in and they are able to greet me. Bringing God's love to the streets can start with a simple "Good morning. I hope you have a good day." I often think of one morning when someone pointed out the beauty of God's creation to me early in the morning. It was one of those mornings when I just wasn't feeling the day quite yet. As I was passing by a woman, she had a big smile on her face and pointed up and asked if I saw the sky. There was nothing special about the sky from where I was standing. She then invited me to turn around and look in the other direction. After I turned around, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises. I then said to her "No, I did not see that part of the sky but I'm sure glad you told me about it." Walking to work at 6:30 in the morning was far from my favorite part of the day until that morning. It took a stranger to remind me of our daily gift from God: A new day. I'm so glad she was present to what was in front of and around her and not present to her headphones or cell phone. Thank God she was present to me, a person in need of a reminder of God's love at 6:30 in the morning.

Perhaps we can try to drop the headphones and cell phones in public, and be present to the people around us so we can be an example of God's love on the streets and allow ourselves to receive God's love on the streets. Maybe from there we can begin to share our stories.

From: Joe Anderson
Location/Parish: Belmont

I think it's great you're out there talking about the Lord. But I have a question. You mentioned that the Brothers weren't interested in doing street preaching. Well, isn't that what Br.John Mathis did when he was living? I seem to remember that he did quite abit of work with the homeless in Cambridge. Also, if I may make a comment about handing out campaign literature while in your habit. You said that you're campaigning as an individual and not as a member of a church or diocese. Well, actually Bishop Shaw, you are by virtue of what you're wearing. Your habit is a representative of particular faith and beliefs. Politics is, and indeed must be, separate from that. I think it's terrific you're campaigning for your friend, but I don't believe it's a good idea to wear particular religious garb while doing so.

From: Susan Charle
Location/Parish: St. Michael's Episcopal Church Auburn, Me.

What a testament to how much suffering there is in the world; and yet, how easily we can be there for one another to alleviate it sometimes.

From: Christopher Wells
Location/Parish: St. David's, Kennebunk, ME

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