The Seattle rain dissipated making room for a wonderful sunset. “I have seen thousands of sunsets in my life, but never noticed them until now,” Grant pondered. “It took this single sunset to perceive the beauty of something as simple as the fire of the sky. Even in the chaos of light and dark, beauty pierces with resilience and peace.”
Accompanied by Wilson, Max, and Tommy, they walked briskly, pounding the pavement from Pioneer Square to Pike’s Place and St. Anthony’s Church.
Grant noticed the Christmas lights, twinkling from streetlamps and area shop windows. It provided an odd peace – the Christmas spirit he lacked.
Saint Anthony’s is an Anglican parish on Pike Street, a block from the Public Market. It works hand in hand with Seattle’s elderly and homeless. Pike’s Place is a location where many displaced people roam and work. The church works hand in hand with the Pike Place Market Foundation to provide services, counseling, food, and healthcare.
Working in conjunction with several area churches and chefs from the Seattle Culinary School, Saint Anthony’s serves 356 at need people with a delicious feast, a banquet in celebration of joy of Christ’s light and hope in grace. Saint Anthony’s houses 112 of the diners in their community gym, with the neighboring Market Center, housing up to 250 souls. The Seattle Toy Company provides gifts for children, while and Puget Clothing Rack donates gift sacks with gloves, hats, and other necessary items for life on the edges.
“This looks like a feast for a king. Praise Christ,” Wilson joyful as they entered the church parish hall. The humble space, brought to life with fresh evergreen wreaths, decorated trees, candlelight, and festive music. A large buffet of hot, mouthwatering food, the aroma of sweet potatoes, ham and turkey, vegetables, and honey cornbread, filled the senses. Grant had never found a meal to be so rewarding, his steps anxious and eager as he waited in line.
“Thank you for volunteering. This food means a lot,” Wilson told each of the servers.
“Thank you,” Grant followed, with trepidation. He didn’t deserve this kindness. It filled his heart with love. Agape. It startled his nerves. It takes time to accept a gift as powerful as this.
“I cannot believe the amount of families, young children that are here,” Grant’s heart sore with lament. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt such empathy.
“Families are the hardest hit by poverty and homelessness. Outreach organizations like Family Promise work to keep families together during trying times. Since 2008, and particularly since NWTC folded in 2010, a lot of people lost their jobs, couldn’t put food on the table, got evicted…some continued to work during the day, but just needed a hand up to get them back on solid ground. Look at Jepson’s family…they do everything they can to stay together, but many families are torn apart, kids put in foster care…foster care is a blessing and a curse, it is a roll of the dice…the children suffer the most from the trauma…”
“What about Social Services?”
“Many families fear going to Social Services because the parents fear that they will lose their children when their parenting isn’t the issue. Many of these parents are sober, loving caretakers…of course other children, those whose parents are chronic abusers, drug dependent do need, tragically to be put into foster care or special programs. It is a complex issue, not a cookie cutter recipe, each situation is drastically difficult, bound by the common thread of poverty and often psychological duress, but unique. That is why Family Promise and other organizations that focus on each layer of family homelessness are critical. There is hope and help, but particularly where children are concerned, services are lacking. Love is so needed to guide them out in their formative years. They need to know light and love, not darkness and hate.”
Grant nearly dropped his tray, when he saw Michael Horton across the room, speaking with the rector. “Michael, what is he doing here?” Grant hoped his former employee wasn’t homeless or struggling through labor difficulty. “I acted harshly towards him. I see that now.”
“Teresa, Merry Christmas,” Wilson embraced her as a friend. “My friend Grant here appreciated your help earlier.”
“Grant, I’m so glad that you decided to come to the dinner.”
“I’m grateful for the invitation.”
“I didn’t get the chance to tell you about area services. St. Nicholas has a community kitchen on Tuesdays from 9-12. Catholic Charities provides case officers at our location on Fridays…my friend, Betsy Horton, can give you more details. She is the social outreach coordinator here at Saint Anthony’s.” Teresa motioned for the petite twenty-five-year-old. “Betsy, I’d like to introduce you to Grant Spaulding. He has fallen on hard times, recently homeless, and it would be a great help to him if you could give him advice.”
“Merry Christmas. It is a pleasure to meet you.” Betsy treated Grant with utmost respect. “I work as the social services director at Saint Anthony’s. Our church is a liaison, working with many other King County non-profits. I can work to help pair you with services. What is your background story?”
“I woke up today, homeless…it’s complicated…I guess you can say I lost everything, going from the penthouse to the outhouse so to speak. I don’t have any drug or alcohol problems. My mental health is clear, I am just a victim of losing my income and possessions, due to my own selfish greed.”
“I’ll provide you with our information packet, it has a comprehensive list of services for the residentially challenged in King County, from shelters to soup kitchens, food banks, showers, employment opportunities and other information to help you navigate this daunting process. Sadly demand, leaves most candidates for services on waiting lists. It could take several weeks to be evaluated and then another six weeks to enter a program. You cannot lose heart. Patience is a virtue; you’ll find gives strength in uncertain times. And with the use of temporary shelters, churches and other non-profits…you can survive until a spot opens up.”
“Weeks on the street?” Grant shocked that it could take that long merely to see a case officer or to get evaluated.
“There is one other option. The Saint Jude Community Center has a rapid transition program. They have twenty-five spots per week, Saturday to Saturday. You have to be sober for the program, off drugs and alcohol.”
“That is not a problem.”
“You need to arrive on the premises no later than eight o’clock in the morning. It is first come first serve and a huge demand for services. Their director of social services, Marissa Bright is a dear friend I think I can arrange for her to at least meet with you on Saturday morning.” Betsy offered.
“Did you say, Marissa Bright?” Grant dumbfounded. This experience certainly reminded him of past mistakes. Marissa Bright had single-handedly railed a campaign against the FLEX Plan. A tinge of anger still raged in Grant, although he now could understand her pleas. Grant had to accept the fact that the FLEX Plan was no more than an investment in greed, a complete desecration of the company’s values – people over profits. The likes of Marissa and Michael stood up to his stubborn tyranny. He only hoped that one day he could return the favor, stopping the FLEX Plan and rehiring Marissa and Michael.
“Are you familiar with Saint Jude’s?”
“I’ll put the information in the file folder, along with my number.” Betsy smile, full of understanding and mercy.
“Hi sweetheart,” Michael kissed Betsy on the cheek. “The kids are with grandpa, handing out gifts to the other children. Katy says that giving the gifts to the underprivileged kids made her happier than getting her dollhouse from Santa. I couldn’t help but smile.”
“I’d like to introduce you to Grant Spaulding.”
“It is good to know you, Grant. Glad that you could join us for the Christmas dinner.” Michael gracious.
“Thank you for volunteering. It is a great gift.” Grant wanted to weep. How could he have been so foolish?
“My father, Rowan Horton is the minister here at St. Anthony’s. To our family the greatest gift of Christmas is the receiving guests at the St. Nicholas dinner, meeting new friends and sharing in the abundance of Christ, love, joy, peace…Speaking of which, my dad is about to give his Christmas Blessing.”
Father Rowan addressed the eclectic group of wayward, lost souls, with a bold love.
“Welcome friends. Christmas is a celebration of love, God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but may have eternal life. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.” Rowan opened. “We all in conflict with the darkness of the temporal world, it wars within, us, do not lose heart for the light and love of Christ pierces through the abyss of life’s dark places, lifting us out of the shadows. It is easy to feel lost, forsaken and alone, when you are suffering through the path of darkness, wandering in the abyss, the burden of hopelessness on your shoulders. Look to the light, do not fear for Christ is with you. He dwells in the love we carry in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Let it be a living hope that Christ suffered, yet his love overcame the world’s oppression. He suffered fear, persecution, mockery, hunger, thirst, yet in love, God’s love, he remained sustained in faith and died without sin, rising above suffering, so that our suffering on earth is a temporary state, the promise of eternal grace bought out of selfless love.
We gather tonight, people without homes, wandering souls, lost and confused, under this humble roof, blessed by the food we receive. Take comfort that the Messiah was born in uncertain circumstances. Mary and Joseph could not find a play to lay their head, even when she was about to give birth. Jesus was born in a stable, in a troth, a manger for the animals. That is low, a forsaken place by worldly standards, yet God lifts the low and sends the poor with a strong spirit, meek with good things. Like many of you Christ was born in a ‘homeless’ situation, Mary and Joseph forced to rely on the care of strangers. Who were the first to here of Christ’s birth? A swarthy class of shepherds. This is how the king; the savior came into the world. God loves all creatures and does not forget your plight. He refines you in trial and strengthens our spirit. His love calls us to give without expectation. For was it not a lack of love and compassion that barred the Holy Family a bed, yet the compassion of the use of the stable, provided a safe haven for them. God knows are sufferings because he first suffered. The world hated him, yet love defeats the world. Even in these lonely times know that the Holy Trinity is with you. Christ is your advocate.
This church is named after Saint Anthony, a patron saint of the lost, poor, oppressed…Christ gathers the lost and bears our burdens. Trust in his love and be moved to action by love, not bitterness and hate. Love is a fire that spreads joy, not death. It sustains and leads the lost out of the darkness into light. See the stranger as a friend, love your neighbor as yourself. Go in love.”
Rowan concluded his invocation with a prayer of ‘hospitality.’
“Loving God, your Son Jesus said: your Kingdom is like a banquet, a festive gathering for all people of every race and color – a table at which the lonely find company, the hungry savor rich foods and fine wine, and strangers enjoy warm family ties. Jesus calls us to build this Kingdom here on earth. Teach us, Lord, the ways of hospitality. Give us the spirit of joyful welcome and to grant us the sensitivity to help people on the move, feel like they belong.”
Grant could not remember a night as fine as the Christmas Feast. The community of love, vagrants, beggars, wanderers had found an eternal home in the promise of love. Grant still struggling with his fate, shied from admitting fully his mistakes, but he felt the spirit of love alive within him. It shocked him that this ‘curse’ was becoming a gift. A presence of joy stirred in his soul.
After the meal, Grant slept on the floor of the gym. It was a crude setting, but the gym was warm and the security of being in a safe place, devoid of rain and frost, left him with peace of mind.