Reflecting on CityReach
Last Friday, March 20, 4 high school teens and 2 adults from our parish went to Church on the Hill (Beacon Hill, Boston) to attend CityReach, the overnight retreat that is run by Ecclesia Ministries. CityReach introduces participants to people who are (or have recently been) homeless in Boston. Those individuals serve as CityReach’s volunteer staff. On Friday evening, the program started with participants and staff getting acquainted. This included us hearing the staff’s stories about how they became homeless and (for some) eventually found housing. Then they took us on a 60-minute walk around Downtown Crossing, the financial district, and South Station. Our two guides, Claire and Dante, introduced us to people they knew who were homeless. More than a few of them were sleeping outside that evening as the snow began to fall. After a prayer service on Boston Common, Friday night came to a close as we opened up our sleeping bags on the floor of the church’s parish hall at 11:30pm. On Saturday morning, we were up at 6:30am for breakfast and to pack up our belongings. Then the “big sort” began as we organized all the used clothing donations that participants had brought to CityReach. (Members of our parish were very generous with their donations. Thank you!) By 10am, homeless people were lined up outside the church waiting to get in to “shop” for what they needed. Our group helped host the women’s clothing and the toiletries tables. Our job was to extend generous hospitality to these guests. Clean-up began around 12:30, and then CityReach staff and participants spent the next 2 hours talking together about the experience and strategizing how to address in small, tangible ways, the challenges of being homeless.
My “take away” from CityReach? Being outside on an cold, wet night for 60 minutes was hard. By the time I got inside my feet were freezing and I was shivering. Sleeping on the floor all night long was really uncomfortable. Wearing the same clothes for nearly 36 hours wasn’t great. Trying to be productive and gracious on Saturday when I was tired and hungry wasn’t easy. All of these experiences gave me a hint of what homeless people experience on a daily basis. I was really grateful to have a house and a family to return to on Saturday afternoon. I was super grateful for a hot shower and a clean set of clothes and a home-cooked meal. It made me feel sad that many of the people I met on Saturday morning didn’t have those same things. It renewed my commitment to find ways to address this social injustice.
I know that other members of the our group will share their reflections with you in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, this is the prayer we wrote at CityReach:
Creator God, thank you for exposing us to the connections we have to our homeless brothers and sisters. Through our service we can help lift others with compassion and love. Thank you for the resilience which allows us to retain the gift of laughter that can inspire hope. We discovered that it is empathy, not our material things, that is a true blessing to those without homes. We are grateful for the acceptance we were given and we can give it back by remembering the names and carrying on the spirits of those we encountered. Amen.