A weekly Rector’s Notes article, December 2, 2019
I’m writing my rector’s notes this morning after working at the First Christian Severe Weather Shelter from 4am-morning close at 7:30am. It was certainly interesting to hold the thought of Advent, the “slow down & quiet”, the “rest, connection, & preparation”, that we have talked about through Rector’s notes and formation and sermons over the past couple of weeks, in the midst of a sense of forlornness and some unrest as the current shelter run draws to a close as the weather warms up for the foreseeable feature.
We serve a population in that facility that desperately needs what is offered there, and not just on nights when it is bitter cold. But, that’s all we can offer at this point. It’s all we can offer in terms of financial resources, staff availability (and health), and volunteer availability (and health). Because of these limitations, the shelter operates in the immediate now, for both guests and staff/volunteers. We try to schedule volunteers and staffing as far in advance as possible, but needs are constantly arising. Whether it is a desperate need for more cleaning supplies, an emergency phone call for more garbage bags, or the deescalation of a guest who is in desperate need of intervention, each night brings its own unique challenges.
But, they are risen to, time and time again. By dedicated staff members, some of whom have their own lived experience of addiction and/or homelessness. By dedicated volunteers who do not have to give their time, their sleep, but do it anyways. Because that is what Christ would have us do, because it is the right thing to do.
And we do it day by day. It is deeply meaningful then that Advent coincides with the onset of severe weather sheltering needs, because this season of Advent, a season of preparation to make room, a season focused on the birth of the savior of our world in a lowly manger (or as Chaplains on the Harbor state it: “Baby Jesus Was Homeless”), a season where we are called to take space apart from all of the stuff of the secular rush to Christmas day, is a season that asks us to consider each day as holy and blessed, each day as an opportunity to connect with God and make room for the arrival of Christ.
That is the necessary (somewhat forced) work of the severe weather shelter, but together as a community that comes together to support not only the guests, but the volunteers and the staff, we engage in the work of Advent. Of new beginnings, new preparations, renewed focus, renewed anticipation for something different, for something better to come into this world and forever change it through the power of grace and mercy, through unconditional love.
One day, the severe weather shelter will be simply a part in a larger effort to address the needs of our neighbors in Cowlitz County who do not have a home, but for now, we will approach sheltering like we approach advent: day by day, seeking and creating space for rest, connection, and preparation that allows all of us to slow down in the moment and appreciate the fact that it is Advent and that means Christ is coming once more.