A final farewell, and a few reflections
Around four years ago, while serving with a small church in SE Portland, my friend and pastor AJ came up to me and said there was this place called HOMEpdx, and they were looking for communities like ours to partner with them to cook their Sunday meal. I had been helping to explore some new ways that we could love and serve our community, and this seemed like a great opportunity. I had heard about this community a few times since being in Portland, but didn’t really know much. I knew they had a meal for folks that lived outside, and that they had a way of serving those who live outside that differed from many of the other places that served meals in the area. So we gathered up some people from our community, cooked a huge meal of hamburgers, and headed down to a church in downtown Portland to serve a meal.
We arrived at the church basement, where HOMEpdx gathered for their Sunday meal. As we brought the food downstairs and began to set up to serve the meal, I was struck by a few things. I was struck by the laughter. I had served meals at a variety of places for those living outside, and often they can be quite sterile and joyless. But not here. Here I saw smiles, and people enjoying one another’s company. I was also struck by the fact that I couldn’t tell the difference between who worked and volunteered with HOMEpdx, and who was there to have a meal. Often the volunteers stand out, with name tags, aprons, or the fact that they are standing behind a table. Not at HOMEpdx. I would come to find out that this is because at HOMEpdx, there was not one group that served, and one that was served, but all served together.
Finally, I was struck by the person in charge (as much as you can be “in charge” at a place like HOMEpdx). I didn’t even know who he was until he grabbed the microphone for a quick prayer and hello after the food had been served. I asked someone who that was, and they said, “That’s Ken. He’s our pastor.” Ken was a little older, had a mohawk, and was wearing a sleeveless shirt that highlighted the many tattoos on his arms. I am pretty sure his brief introduction contained numerous swear words. And he had a quiet personality, even with a mic in his hand. All these things did not scream pastor in the traditional sense. But then I watched him walk away from the mic and start talking with people. People who called him pastor. I watched how he loved them, listened to them, joked with them. He was not just their pastor. He was their friend. When I had a chance to talk with Ken a little later, I asked how long he had worked here, among the homeless. He corrected me. “Here these people are not ‘the homeless,’ here they are our friends,” he said.
I realized three things at that moment. First, I realized God was up to something in that church basement in SW Portland. Secondly, I realized that I had much to learn about the reality of life for those living outside. And lastly, I realized that this was a place in which I wanted to spend more time.
That was four years ago. A year after that meal, I started volunteering on a regular basis. Six months after that I was asked to serve on the board along with volunteering. And not long after that I came on staff. After being on staff for a year, I was ordained as a pastor by the community (I wrote about that life-changing event here). The non-traditional pastor I met that day, Ken, become my friend and mentor, someone who has taught me more about how to love people than almost anyone else in the world. The community at HOMEpdx became a community of friends. A community that I have learned so much from. Not just about the reality of life for those living outside, but about how to be friends. About how to love each other.
I am so thankful for my time at HOMEpdx, and the beautiful and unexpected paths my journey took during my three years there. I started out volunteering to serve others. I soon realized that I was not simply volunteering, but that I was the one being served, and being taught by the community. Finally, I realized that we were a community that served each other, which is how a church community is supposed to work. That was not an easy process for me, as it forced me not only to confront my own privilege, but also the ugly truth inside of me, that those I serve had often been objects in helping me feel good about my service. At HOMEpdx they became my friends. By prioritizing community and friendship, HOMEpdx has helped facilitate a space where things like this can happen. But also where service can happen, as that is what friends do when one of them is in need of something.
As I move on to the next part of my journey (which we share about here), I just want to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thanks to the wonderful community at HOMEpdx. Thanks to all the individuals who became my friends, and for all the times we were able to serve each other. Thanks to Ken, for teaching me so much and being my friend. Thanks to Bruce, for the three years we spent walking together while we leaned how to better love our community. Thanks to Gus, who will be taking my place. Thank you all. I know that I am a better human being after spending time with the HOMEpdx community. You will all be in my heart as I continue my journey, and I wish you godspeed on your own journey. Keep doing what you do HOMEpdx!
With much love, Luke.