It amazed me how organized the people at the Bissell are, but then, they've been doing this for years. As volunteers walked in carrying the food donated by our church, we were given different tasks. I really enjoyed making dessert trays and take-away-bags of cookies alongside Annie and her friends, regular workers at the centre who know the ropes and helped me understand how things were done. Listening to the women's gossip, I felt like one of the gang because they certainly didn't hold back on my account!
Serving the meal was also interesting. People picked up plates of sandwiches, a few sweets and cups of coffee and sat at round tables. A few "runners" were given the task of taking trays of fruits and vegetables around the room, and folks would point at what they wanted from a tray. The favourite items were tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, and grapes, strawberries or pineapple chunks, things that our homeless brothers and sisters don't often get day-to-day. Carrots, celery, broccoli and apples can be too hard on teeth that rarely receive dental care. Next time I'm invited to help with a Bissell Centre lunch, I'm going to bring grapes and strawberries instead of salmon sandwiches!
The inner city folks who came to lunch were many and varied, but I would guess that 80% were First Nations, with the rest being immigrants or low and no-income caucasians, several with disabilities. There was a couple that reminded me of my grandparents, asking if I had taken guitar lessons. There was a woman whose head kept nodding toward the table until she finally put her head down for a nap. One cheerful fellow's face looked as though he had been in a series of fights, and there was a group of guys hanging out near the bathrooms that I would be afraid to meet in a dark alley. All of them, my brothers and sisters, all of them prophets, reminding me that my life isn't as secure as I imagine, and that community is the place where we are most fully human.
The part of my time at the Bissell that touched me the most was the worship service. I joined Farley, the Centre's musician, to play some music on our guitars. The first thing Farley said to me was that he liked my name, and I told him the same. He actually looked sort of like Farley Mowat, a famous Canadian author, except with curlier hair and a fedora sporting a small, irridescent peacock feather. A very gentle soul, he gave me the sense that he's had a pretty tough life and can really relate to the folks at the Bissell. We agreed that music is invaluable in worship because it touches places deep in the soul, places where words don't reach. Farley commented that often, while watching the people as he sings, he'll catch someone wiping their eyes, and it makes him happy that they can feel safe enough at worship to cry, especially when they have to be so tough out on the streets.
Farley is a masterful guitarist, and following his lead was easy, except when the tears filled my eyes. Praying the New Creed with the inner city family choked me up:
We are not alone.
We live in God's world.
We believe in God, who has created and is creating,
Who came in Jesus,
Word made Flesh, to reconcile and make new,
Who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the church,
to celebrate God's presence,
to live with respect in creation,
to love and serve others,
to promote justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
As the service ended with Farley's much quicker and folksier version of "She Flies On" than the one below, I couldn't help but think that -- of all the churches in Edmonton and area -- the worship at the Bissell Centre and places like it is where Jesus would likely attend most regularly...