Gary’s story

Gary presented this story along with Colin’s sermon on The Power of Story on July 5.

Friday morning June 24th, I was at my favorite weekly event. At 8 a.m., I was breakfasting at Bread & Cie with our Dean and the cathedral’s “best and brightest” (just ask them).

About 8:35 the thought entered my mind that I should go down to God’s Extended Hand, listen to, observe and maybe learn from the assigned worship leaders.

I tried to dismiss the idea- that could be done any day- Fridays were special. Fridays were my day. The idea persisted, intensified and in 4-5 minutes I mumbled good-byes and was gone.

At God’s Extended Hand I sat at the seldom used piano by the raised stage and prepared to take notes. 9:30 came and went—no church group, no speaker, those scheduled were a no-show. I thought- I’m here today by accident, by coincidence—I’ll just leave. Then it struck me. Other than on the one day a month assigned to St. Paul’s, I’d not been there since February 4th. My presence was no coincidence.

I looked at the faces of their guests—I saw pain, resignation, fatigue and despair. I could not leave. I’d been “apostle”- sent out. Their doorman conferred with me and I said I’d fill in unprepared—I’d lead a prayer and give a ten minute talk.

Be authentic, be real, speak from your heart, be direct, don’t talk down to these people- engage them: those thoughts crowded my mind. So I opened by asking, “What are you grateful to God for this morning?” Smiles and voices followed. “My two grandkids.” “Another day alive.” “My boyfriend.” “God’s Extended Hand and one solid meal a day.” And finally, “I’m grateful for my struggles.” That’s profound. Look up Romans 5:3-5 when you get home.

Then I borrowed from the “Orlando Strong” service Father Jeff composed and held at Flicks video bar in the heart of Hillcrest. The refrain in its Prayers of the People was “I will make of the outcasts a strong nation.” I had the guests repeat that twice and told them that God loves imperfect and broken people—the hungry , unhoused, mentally ill, chemically addicted, differently abled, deficient and damaged. I’m in there somewhere.

I continued: “God so loved the world” must not be read “God so loved the rich, the WASPs, the smart, well-schooled and powerful…” And I said- God loved Gary- orphaned, raised in foster-care, a kid who couldn’t dribble a basketball or hit a baseball, a bookish loner with Coke bottle glasses and poor attire.

I told them you folks are exiles, outcasts and throwaways to many politicians and much of the public. Yes- we recycle cans, we throw away people, and some of those killed and wounded at Pulse, Orlando’s gay night club were seen that way too; less-than and disposable. And I said “Black Lives Matter” didn’t emerge from thin air, without cause.
Closing, I asserted that we cannot, must not, wait for the influential, rich and powerful to affirm our worth. Hell will freeze over. Homeless or homosexual or otherwise a stone the builders rejected, less- than, outcast—we can affirm one another.

A smile, a greeting, a touch, the sharing of food and beverage—simple acts of kindness are a good start. “I will make of the outcasts a strong nation.” Two Fridays ago I was apostled—sent out—with good news to share and yes, sent to cast out demons. Hopelessness, resignation and fearfulness are demonic.

Driven, prodded and empowered by the Holy Spirit I was able to evoke moments of gratitude, smiles and laughter from the battered guests at that run-down mission. The takeaways: First, we are all called to be disciples and apostles. The sending forth didn’t stop at 70 and didn’t end on Pentecost. And second, God can use any of us—we have only to listen, say “Yes”, and go forth. Amen.

Gary Owen

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