In The Anglican a few months back I read an article by Fr. Matthew Johnson from St. James Anglican Church in Vancouver. He spoke of the 'ministry of presence' with respect to the large homeless community in the neighbourhood of St. James.
Rev Matthew wrote that some of the church members wondered why he bothered with these people because this is the life that they chose. However, Matthew wrote, few people ended up on the streets by any real choice of their own. Almost all of them, he said, have experienced extreme adversity in their lives which led to their current situation. Often that trauma had been experienced in their childhood and included abandonment, violence, sexual abuse, extreme poverty. Some had spent their childhood in an endless succession of group or foster homes - sometimes facing abuse there as well. Many never recover and find themselves on the street. Some find that drugs help to dull the pain for a bit. Thankfully some do recover and Fr. Matthew rejoices in their success.
It was the phrase 'ministry of presence' that particularly captivated me. For many years I was very involved in the food bank at my local church. As much as it broke my heart that there was such an overwhelming need for the food bank I loved working it. I enjoyed meeting and connecting with the people who came. We never preached to them. Apart from the fact that the food bank was inside an Anglican Church there was no proselytizing - we simply practiced the ministry of presence. We were present to the guests who found themselves in need of our help. We greeted them, befriended them, welcomed them and were just there for them. I made some amazing connections from among the people who came - developed relationships and memories that I will cherish always.
So often people who find themselves struggling, down & out, and become invisible to the larger community out there. People avoid looking the homeless in the eye; cross the street so that they don't get asked for a handout; make judgements based on clothes or demeanour. Generally do not make themselves present.
And one of the main goals of The Community of Caring Foodbank was, along with providing food, to be present to each and every person who entered the doors.
The ministry of presence. Fr. Matthew is bang on.