About a dozen years ago, I traveled to Vancouver to attend an educational conference for Lutheran Mission Pastors. Most of the conference was spent inside a stuffy meeting room. But one afternoon about forty of us were loaded onto a school bus and we traveled down to the east-side of Vancouver to spend some time with Pastor Brian Heinrich, who ran the Lutheran Urban Ministry Society. I doubt that many of you have ever or will ever visit the downtown east side of Vancouver. Lutheran Urban Ministry was located near the corner of Main and Hastings in one of the poorest areas in all of Canada. It was the sort of place where forty Lutheran pastors stuck out like a sore thumb. At the time the downtown east-side was one of the roughest neighborhoods in Canada. This was before Olympic developers gentrified the neighbourhood.
As we arrived, I noticed the discomfort that was written all over the faces of my fellow clergy. Although I’d travelled to the eastside many times and even lived for a few months in a cheap apartment on the edge of the eastside, my journeys in the eastside were usually quick, with as few stops as I could manage, so that I could avoid the unpleasant sights and sounds that you encounter in places were poverty literally fills the air. Knowing that we were scheduled to spend the day in the eastside made me long for the mountaintops that I could see stretching up to the sky across the river. I could feel the same discomfort that was written on the faces of my colleagues take hold of my own face.
On the steps of the church, a young man was shooting up. In the alley next to the church, very young men and women were offering their bodies for sale. Inside the church we were greeted by several of Pastor Brian’s parishioners. Before we could get inside the sanctuary, a very smelly man extended a filthy hand in friendship. When I took his hand he grinned at me with his two remaining teeth and told me his name was David and that I should make myself at home. Eventually, Pastor Brian introduced us to about a half a dozen of his parishioners. All of them wore their poverty with a welcoming smile. Because the sight of forty Lutheran Pastors being guided around the neighborhood on a tour might have shaken up the local inhabitants, we were divided up into small groups and assigned guides. That’s how I met a woman, for the purposes of this sermon I’ll call, Gracie. Continue reading