It has taken a bit of time for all that has happened with our MANNA brothers and sisters over the past few weeks to start to sink in. Having the opportunity to both have All Saints go before the MANNA Leadership Team at their weekly Monday meeting to award the larger group our Spirituality and Justice award …and then having 15 of their Leaders come to All Saints to worship with us last week, receive the award, share some stories and insights into their lives on the streets… It was at once heart-warming, eye-opening, and a bit wonderfully overwhelming.
At our parish luncheon after the service, we were given a number of opportunities to see and hear from MANNA members and members of our parish. We learned a bit more about our evolving relationship with this remarkable community and the challenges they face.
We were shown a short slide show providing a glimpse at the lives and activities of the MANNA community over last year: writing with the Black Seed Writers’ Group, joining in community at their Sunday Coffeeklatsch, walking to raise funds for various causes that are important to their community, worshiping together, sharing stories, meditating, celebrating with a square dance, a weekend camping trip to VT, helping others with a Thanksgiving Day meal and more.
James Parker, a writer for the Atlantic who provides guidance to the writers’ group, distributed poems written by MANNA writers to some parishioners to read out loud. To hear MANNA members’ words through the voices of our parishioners was a powerful moment.
We also heard reflections from members of the All Saints Leadership Team. Fran Bancroft, Kathleen O’Connor, Sharon Siwiec, Mary Urban Keary and Ginny spoke a bit about the transforming experience for us all working with the MANNA community. We are all very grateful for the way in which the men and women of MANNA have welcomed us, helped us, shared their stories and offered us a very different picture of men and women who are homeless than what we had experienced in our lives.
Next on were the MANNA speakers: Bryant, who makes winter cloaks, hats and scarves to sell to his colleagues, a man on the street for many years, and now has a room, but who still prefers on many nights to sleep “rough” out with his buddies; Mikel, who described the challenges of staying dry, finding food, searching for a place to sleep; and Richard, who shared his thoughts on what passers by might best do when they walk by a person on the street who is asking for money. He said that offering money is often counterproductive.
He mentioned that what is needed most are white socks, Charlie cards, hand warmers, and McDonald’s cards (which will allow a person to use the facilities, get warm and have a bite to eat). He also offered that it would be helpful if we raised our voices to the State House to continue their efforts toward providing additional shelter.
We give thanks to our parish in the way that the MANNA community was welcomed and valued on the award Sunday, to the Mission and Outreach Committee and all who helped in greeting, setting up, preparing our meal and clean up. We continue to have much to learn and look forward to another year of exploration and growth.