I'm all for these words being used in every sermon: "When I finish up we'll be serving root beer floats," along with these kind words, "Sorry, Ken, but you'll have to wait for the kids to go first." (I suppose the 'Ken' is optional.) There had been food served before the service this week, hot dogs and chips and potato salad and brownies. Not surprisingly, some people left after getting their lunches -- no floats for them.
The Bridge, a Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Santa Rosa, holds an outreach service for the homeless the last Sunday of every month at Bicentennial Park. Even the day before, we didn't expect to be there (we didn't even know about it). Please excuse a digression about how God brought us there.
Every month we have a theme for the places we'll worship. For Urban Churches Month, there was no shortage of churches to choose from, any more than there was a shortage of places to go to Rural Church Month. This month, we decided to have Outdoor Worship Month, but we found there were not as many churches to choose from, which kind of surprised us. For the last Sunday of the month we were looking at two Southern California possibilities. Then Mindy had a vehicular mishap involving a curb last Wednesday. It wasn't serious, but we weren't going to be driving on a long trip until the car was fixed right. So we invited people to join us in the park to worship. We didn't know if anyone would come.
Since we thought perhaps no one would show, on Sunday morning, we decided to go online and look for a later Sunday service, maybe something Sunday night. In a listing of area worship services, Mindy noticed that The Bridge held Church at the Park the last Sunday of the month; an outreach to the homeless, from noon until 3:00 pm. We decided to catch it after out little service at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park.
Only one person met us at Shiloh Ranch, our friend Jeff, who is looking for a church; a church that has a ministry to the homeless. God can be funny.
Folks from The Bridge were still serving hot dogs off the grill when we got to Bicentennial Park. We noticed a couple of large boxes of clothes that people were sorting through. I talked to Jennifer, who had just scored a pair of tennis shoes. They were a little big but she said they were much better than wearing her Sunday shoes every day, which she'd been doing for the past few days.
Darby (who started the ministry), realized they'd run out of food before everyone was served. So she ran off to buy dollar burgers at a nearby Carl's Jr. Four years ago, Darby started making food in her kitchen and delivering it to homeless people on the street and in the park. When the Bridge began a couple of years ago, Jim McKee, the outreach pastor of the church, was looking for ways to involve people in minister. He adopted Darby's ministry, leaving her in charge but bringing more people aboard.
Apparently most Sundays they also offer haircuts, but the gentleman with the shears was on vacation. They usually offer "survival packs" with granola bars, tooth brushes, tooth paste, deodorant, and other hygiene products. The most important thing they offer, though, is relationship.
It was a short -- very short -- worship service. The guy leading the singing apologized for forgetting his guitar. We sang "Amazing Grace" a cappella and without song sheets. The church's Celebrate Recovery pastor, David, spoke. (Celebrate Recovery is ministry to those dealing with addiction.) David talked about how everyone is important to Jesus. There were a few children present, and David talked about how important children were to Jesus (and that kids would be first in line for the floats; orange soda floats were also an option). He closed with Romans 5:8, saying that God loves us sinners.
I enjoyed the chance to talk to some of the folks who came to the service. Ken isn't technically homeless; he rents a cabin. But he said he has a hard time sleeping there with cats on the roof and animals making noise. He is struggling and appreciates the hot food.
I talked to Linda who admitted she was homeless partly by choice. She has grown daughters and could live with them but doesn't want to be a burden. My brother does work preserving big cats (lions and tigers, not bears) and we talked about that for a bit. Linda said that she believed God had given people instincts to live outdoors like He'd given instincts to animals.
I'm not sure about that. I am sure that God has provided good folks from The Bridge to care for the homeless. One of the best things I heard from David was that he said their ministry isn't once a month. They meet people once a month in the park, rain or shine, but when they see them at other times, they stop to talk with them. Jim said the homeless folks have his cell phone number and he's received calls at 2:00 am.
David said they didn't believe the church should be confined within four walls. We agree, and were happy to find that Outdoor Worship isn't a rare a thing.
Service Length: 10 minutes
Sermon Length: 8 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Everybody was greeted. We were asked to fill out a visitors' card, if we wanted to (we did)
Our Rough Count: 30 adults, 4 children, 2 dogs
Probable Ushers' Count: 50
Snacks: Hot dogs, soda, lots of water, chips, potato salad, root beer and orange floats, brownies
Musicians: one singer (male)
Songs: Amazing Grace
Miles to place: 8Total California Miles: 10,709