The mission statement of my downtown parish, St. Paul’s K Street, Washington, DC, is “to restore all people to God and each other, through sacramental worship and Christlike living.” We regard worshipping God and being in communion with Him as the Church’s primary reason for existing. Our beautiful, formal English liturgy makes every effort through music, preaching, vesture, architecture and adornment to point to the glory of God and inspire souls to behold His grace and find joy in His presence. It is worship and experiencing God’s love that propels mission.
The love and kindness shown to us through Christ’s self sacrifice has compelled me and many others to share that love with those around us, to imitate His kindness and to alleviate suffering when we can. One way our parish has tried to alleviate suffering and offer friendship with God is by providing a wholesome weekend breakfast to over 150 homeless persons living outdoors near our parish. We call this breakfast distribution the “Grate Patrol” because in cold weather, individuals seeking warmth outside lie on large metal grates that cover the heat vents of public buildings. We take breakfast (and frequently other needed items like clothing) to our homeless friends where they sleep, early in the morning, before they get up and are gone.
This ministry began in the mid 1980’s. Unfortunately, in spite of the many organizations and programs dedicated to eliminating homelessness, there are still hundreds of people living outdoors on our city streets. Their presence has become in some ways more noticeable with COVID – it is common to see tents and encampments in traffic circles and public parks – and in other ways more invisible – these sights are so ubiquitous that one easily becomes blind to them. We have been able to continue our rounds in spite of the pandemic and are glad that while life outside has many difficulties, our friends in the open air have remained relatively safe from infection. I believe that our presence every weekend over the past 38 years is a reminder that they have not been forgotten.
Before we set out on the Grate Patrol, we pray for the safety of those we are about to serve and for God’s protection of everyone in the world facing hardship. We especially pray that we may see God in each person we meet and that He may be known to others in us. We pray, too, that we may be like Him in everything that we think, do and say, and our breakfast bag includes a prayer slip expressing our hope that the reader will have a safe and good day.
I have made many dear friends, homeless and housed, through worshipping at St. Paul’s and through the Grate Patrol. I consider the Church and service to persons in need as two great blessings that have opened the door to life giving fellowship and the conviction that the God we worship at the altar is present in each person we serve.