A Joy and a Blessing
Timothy Smith, Night Ministry Intern
I have been an intern at Night Ministry for the past six months. My internship there is part of the field education program at School for Deacons in Berkeley, where I began as a student in their three-year program, in August 2012, after retiring from a 40- year career as an attorney and consultant. SFD requires second-year students like me to work as an intern with an organization having a social ministry in the community and to engage as fully as possible in their programs.

My experience with the Night Ministry over the past six months has been transformative. It has been a joy and a blessing to be able to work with caring and compassionate clergy and lay people at Night Ministry and to experience first-hand how they bring their own presence and the presence of the Holy Spirit to be with the homeless and the needy on the streets of San Francisco.

Cardboard House to Chapel
Working under the thoughtful, discerning, and compassionate tutelage of Lyle Beckman, the senior night minister in charge of SF Night Ministry, I've joined night ministers on their late nightly walks through such neighborhoods as the Tenderloin, lower Polk, the Castro, City Hall, North Beach, and Fisherman's Wharf. It has been deeply moving and personally fulfilling to bring my presence to the streets and to be with the night ministers as they pray with people on the streets and bring comfort, love, and hope to them.

A profound experience for me occurred one chilly, damp evening when I was accompanying a night minister on a walk in the neighborhood near the Castro Safeway where a large number of homeless people often congregate. As we walked down the street at about 1 :30 a.m., we encountered a man with long hair and a beard who was building himself a house made out of cardboard for the night. We caught his eye and began speaking with him. We quickly learned that he had been a substance abuser for a number of years. It also appeared that his homelessness had resulted from many years of substance abuse and that he had little, if anything, in worldly possessions. However, he was a very spiritual man and began talking with us about God's love for all of us despite our sins, the Catholic Church (to which he belonged as a youth), the Pope, religious tolerance. The discussion was quite lively. He then announced that he would change his cardboard house into a cardboard chapel, proceeded to make an altar inside the cardboard box, and invited us to pray with him. For the next 40 minutes we prayed with him on our knees by his makeshift altar inside the cardboard box. I believe that all three of us felt the power of the Holy Spirit while we prayed. As the man was thanking us afterwards for bringing our presence to him, I looked at him again and saw in him the face of Jesus.

Singing for Open Cathedral
I've also engaged as a lector, a prayer leader, and even a song leader (quite a stretch for me) for Open Cathedral. It is a church without walls or a roof, where night ministers conduct uplifting Eucharistic services on Sundays and week-day afternoons in open plazas by City Hall and the Mission BART station. Everyone is warmly welcomed to the Lord's Table, is treated with dignity, and after the service receives a bag lunch prepared by a different church each week. Already, the night ministers have successfully built community for Open Cathedral, which now has regular attendees at its services.

A deeply moving experience for me occurred at Open Cathedral near City Hall during one of the Sunday afternoon Eucharist services. Open Cathedral clergy from Night Ministry invite anyone on the streets to join in the service and treat everyone with dignity just as Christ treated the marginalized. The liturgy is normally conducted by Night Ministry clergy and volunteers charismatically led by the Rev. Monique Ortiz. However, the parishioners, many of whom are homeless, serve as ushers, lead singing, and actively engage in the intercessionary prayers. It is truly heartwarming to hear the parishioners, many of whom are struggling to sustain themselves, pray for God to bless and be with others who are also struggling to survive! On this particular day, the neighborhood participant who usually leads the singing during the service was not there. The clergy attending the service did not feel totally comfortable in leading the singing, although they tried mightily. Suddenly, an older; bearded man in a faded hoodie and trousers who had been sitting apart from the others, buried in his own thoughts, stood up and volunteered to lead the singing. He took the portable microphone and proceeded to lead the singing with a magnificent voice as smooth as velvet. Everyone joined in enthusiastically singing the selected hymns and the alleluias. This gentleman had helped to make the Eucharist even more special than it already was! I stood there and once again felt that I had experienced the Holy Spirit in action at Open Cathedral!

Daily Thanksgiving
I'm also training to become a crisis line counselor for the Night Ministry, which uses crisis line counseling as a forum where during the night troubled and lonely people can speak with someone who cares for them and who has been trained as a counselor to help them. I continue to be deeply touched by the dedication and faith of the crisis line counselors as they spend long hours into the night making themselves available to pray and to speak on the phone with troubled and lonely people. I thank God daily for the gift of being a part of the Night Ministry's program of caring and compassion for the homeless and others in need on the streets of San Francisco. I also thank Lyle and his colleagues for providing me with an opportunity to engage actively in a diverse ministry outside the confines of church walls. I look forward to continuing to engage in Night Ministry programs even after I complete my field education program for School for Deacons at the end of the current spring semester.




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