A funny thing happened on Sunday at church. I had been scheduled for a month to read the scriptures, and I felt a slight chill when I discovered the passage was John 12:1-11.
This is the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with the perfume that was worth a year’s wages. Judas complained that it should have been sold, with the money going to the poor. Jesus stated that the poor would always be in the world but he would be with his disciples only a week longer.
I thought about where I would stand in this story and why the chill ran down my neck as I read.
I contract out to the Portland Hotel Society (PHS), the group that has been audited by the BC government and BC Housing and is accused of inappropriate use of funds.
I am the chaplain-come-spiritual-advisor for the PHS. Residents and staff call me different names depending on the context: Al, Pastor Al, SpirituAl and Father.
I confess that during these last few days I have had a mixture of emotions – anger, grief, and gratitude.
Stories in the media which use language that inflates a perverse sensationalism make me angry. The PHS board and directors have been made out to be people motivated solely by greed.
The leadership that I know have lived out the belief that we are all connected as human beings and that it is obscene for people on the margins to live in conditions that do not respect humanity.
Perhaps the PHS staff and leadership have come alongside those on the margins in such strong ways that they have ruffled feathers of those in places of powers. I give my anger to the Creator and pray that my anger will be controlled not controlling.
Over the last 23 years the leadership of the PHS have fought to give voice to those who are the most marginalized in Vancouver: the addict, the mentally ill, the HIV/AIDS and Hep C patient, the person in trouble with the law.
Their leadership has inspired the current staff of over 300 to see the ‘other’ not as someone to fear or to lock up but as someone to learn from, someone who deserves the gift of radical hospitality.
The grief I recognize in residents and staff is a grief mixed with fear of a new PHS leadership not seeing people to be embraced but to be managed.
Eugene Peterson writes in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, “We live in a world that has replaced soul with self. This reduction turns people into either problems or consumers.” Will the three levels of government, along with the new board and directors of the PHS, see souls or will they simply see consumers and problems? If it is the latter, grief will continue.
I feel such a sense of gratitude for my opportunity to work with the senior leadership and staff of the PHS. The core leaders have had and have led with a fierce piercing vision that encourages all who work at the PHS to extend the gift of dignity to residents and colleagues.
One of the most precious roles I have with the PHS is to preside over memorials. Friends and acquaintances from the community, family, health professionals and staff come to show their respects and tell their stories.
At every memorial I have helped facilitate, there have been expenses. An estimate cost, including my hours, would be $300 per memorial. I have done 70 in just over three years, totaling $21,000.
One way to account for these services would be:
|Connectedness + care + community + supporting family and friends as they grieve||PRICELESS|
One parent wrote, “Thirty years ago B’s father and I moved to northern B.C. B would not join us, so we said a prayer and gave her to Jesus to look after. He didn’t fail us. He took her to the PHS, and she lived to the end with a family of caring, loving staff, merchants and friends. We thank each of you . . .”
I thank God for the tremendous gift of working with the leadership and the staff and knowing some of the many residents who are cared for by the Portland Hotel Society.
To the three directors I know the best – Mark, Liz and Kirsten – I say: May the God who knows the beginning and the end, who has known us from the beginning of time, give you comfort and his radical embrace for the way you have lived out the mandate of loving one’s neighbour.
Al has lived his entire life no further than 20 km from where he grew up East Vancouver, having worked as a teacher, a ministry staff person for Inter-Varsity and Pioneer Camp and an associate with City in Focus. As of May 1, he will be moving under the auspices of Outreach Canada.
The best decision in his life was marrying Mia, and the most recent awe-inspiring moment was holding Everett Alexander McKay Moss for the first time.
To contact Al, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.