The Church of the Advocate
MARCH 8, 2019
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40
I walked into the Church of the Advocate (COA) on January 1, 2018 with a mission of delivering some leftover Christmas cookies for the pre-worship snack hour. This was a dual mission, thought to serve me also as a disposal of excess baked goods. Moments of grace followed, such as the woman who held a cookie in her hand and murmured ‘this is a buckeye.’ As I witnessed that moment of bliss for her, one that transported her away from her current life, I was taken away from my two-dimensional understanding of this congregation. I wondered if her mother had made these with her, or if she had done so with a daughter. Since January I have met homeless people who have opened my eyes to their humanity, people with names and histories. I return most every Sunday, not to fix anyone or to solve their problems, but to join them in worship and simply to be with them.
I do not say that street people are always warm and fuzzy. They can be scary, intimidating or just plain vexing. At times I might wish the homeless would go away and be invisible. However, as time passes I am drawn into this ministry, not from the outside but from the inside. We are not always called to do what is safe or comfortable. I must do what I am able. We all serve that requirement in different ways. For me The COA builds community in central Asheville. I live downtown and as I walk or ride a bike through the streets I see familiar faces, faces that have names. The man or woman who occupies the park, or impedes my progress on the sidewalk is not an unwashed stranger. Instead, I can greet them and remember that her name is Sharon and she read the lesson last Sunday.
The street name for The COA is The Red Door. It is known that way citywide, as an outward symbol of a place downtown where one can go in search of welcome and comfort. Sundays provide an afternoon of shelter from the outside, worship and a meal. During the week a variety of programs are available as budget constraints allow. This September, Trinity Church will host the annual fundraiser for The Red Door. This event provides one-quarter of the operating budget for the year. We will not end homelessness in Asheville. I do not believe that is the mission. However, we can sustain the Church of the Advocate. We can meet our neighbors and look after each other. The man on the street is not menacing to me if I remember he served me communion last Sunday. That is what The Red Door has become for me. I see three dimensions more often now, and not through rose-colored glasses.
You are neither compelled to complete the work,
nor permitted to desist from it. Rabbi Tarfon