Today I glimpsed the kingdom of God in an inner city church name Mathewson Street in Providence, Rhode Island. My day began with about 300 people sitting around tables drinking coffee and eating a hearty breakfast while a dear soul played the piano.
I sat with two men who shared stories with me about how they managed in the colder months to keep warm and dry, going from shelters to libraries to churches. They talked about their hopes, joys and struggles. We toasted to forgiveness as Rev. Jack Jones invited us to a love feast and offered prayers of and for the people.
I met a man named Russ who volunteers in the kitchen starting at 5am every Sunday morning to cook his famous eggs and potatoes. He told me about how he ended up on the streets after breaking 3 bones in his leg days before he was to start his new job as an electrician. He had no health insurance and no support network. He lost everything — his tools, his possessions, his dignity and his truck. He walks with a cane and still questions how he so quickly went from living a middle class lifestyle three years ago to surviving on the streets. But today he moves with joy and renewed hope.
I met Scott, who has come back to the church, finding a community that walks the talk. He has invited over 100 of his friends to be a part of the prayer breakfast ministry. Many of them are from his connections with families from his little league teams.
When I sat down at the second worship experience of the day I was welcomed by two women who have no homes. They helped me follow the order of the service and made sure I could find the right page in the hymnal as we sang. I listened to the prayers of the people as we prayed for the real needs of folks who live on the margins all over the world.
And then I saw it — the sea of saints coming to receive communion — a hunched over man who shuffled with a cane, another man from Liberia, several retired professors, social workers, dean of schools, a banker, homemakers, victims, addicts, children, mentally unstable folks, people with no teeth, and others of all colors, shapes and ages. I wept as I listened to the voices raised in hope in the midst of brokenness. This was the body of Christ broken for the world. This was the beloved community.
After the service I asked the faithful members, some of whom had worshipped there for over 50 years, why they continue to be involved. One woman said, “I am changed by the encounters that I have as I serve.” Another said, “This is a messy place. The need and struggles can feel overwhelming, but I draw strength from the community and know that I am not alone.” Finally a woman who drives 40 miles every Sunday said simply, “This is the Kingdom of God.”
I, too, was changed today. I saw the power of a community of saints both past and present who have prayed the kingdom into reality on Mathewson Street. And today I join them in those prayers, “God’s kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Hallowed be your name!”