Class was very good today (I’ll say more in another post), but what happened after class was just as meaningful. Tim Peters is a great friend and has ministered in downtown Los Angeles for more than fifteen years. I stop by or take students to see the ministry he is involved in at least a couple of times a year. Last year when I came for studies at Fuller I took some colleagues to a karaoke night for homeless people at Central City Community Church. You can read three previous posts about that here.
Recently, Tim left his ministry as a pastor to homeless children and now is the executive director of a shelter for families. This is a passion of Tim’s because in Los Angeles, while the homeless population used to consist of primarily men, there are more and more mothers and children on the street (this is due to the gentrification of the older downtown area, forcing families out of cheap housing and refitting the hotels they lived in as high-end lofts). There is a desperate need for family “restorative housing,” as Tim calls it. Tonight I had dinner with three homeless families at an old home called “The Door of Hope.” I ate with them, played with the children and helped prepare two rooms for two more families that will move in tomorrow. It was a house of joy (lots of children laughing and yelling), of celebration (we stopped the meal to clap for Tiara for getting a 100% on an assignment in kindergarten), and acceptance (my name was as important to them as theirs was to me). In this one-year program the parents are taught financial skills, parenting skills, are given psychological care and are placed in jobs. The program has a wonderful rate of success; one of the grads is now a full-time case worker back in the home.
We talked in depth about theology and ecclesiology today. I am more and more convinced that theology must be preceded by, or at least accompanied by, ministry to make any sense at all. There is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy. Ministry informs and shapes my theology, and an appropriate ecclesiology can only come from serving together as a community of believers. I have seen this in my own congregation: people’s understandings of God, of self and of others are radically altered when they serve, clothe and house the poor.
After I left “The Door of Hope” I drove over to All Saints Church, an Episcopal church in Pasadena. I entered the beautiful cathedral-like sanctuary and to my delight I was the only one there. I wandered around and then sat down, reflected and prayed through the day. I was thinking how wonderful it would be to hear some music. I had barely done so when a whole bunch of noisy, chattering women emerged through a back door and mounted the stage. I spent the next half hour just listening to them practice! Here’s a brief clip.
I left the church in pursuit of a bunch of fresh bananas. I found a Ralph’s and picked up some goodies for tomorrow. I was met in the parking lot by a lady who needed gas. I helped her put five bucks worth in a spare gas can. Orthodoxy is not complete without orthopraxy.
I ended the day by catching up with my roommate, Bob, and eating peanut butter and bananas. Not a bad day. Thanks God, and good night.
UPDATE, February 1: Oddly enough, it's the morning after I wrote this post and the front page of the Los Angeles Times has an article entitled "Rousting of skid row homeless puts strain on surrounding areas." The Times has been following issues related to the downtown homeless community for awhile. Hospitals have been discharging people and dumping them on skid row. In Long Beach a pastor defied a city ordinance and let homeless stay on his church campus. Here's an article about a teen who makes his way to school in urban L.A. and overcomes all adversities with family and prayer. Here's one about a teen who chronicles gentrification in her neighborhood. I have many more; let me know if you need them.