It was a huge success. Our Neighbourhood BBQ drew in at least 150 people. Some estimate double that. It was hard to tell in the running chaos of the afternoon and evening. There was no doubt in my mind that the free food attracted people looking like they didn’t have the disposable income to “eat out”.
Two young scary-looking guys from Our Space, the downtown drop-in, were some of the first to show up. As a Church-lady helped an elderly man from Our Space bring his bicycle into the church, one of the young guys started cursing at the old man.
I asked “Is he a friend of yours?”
“I fucking hate him,” was the reply. “I hate him as much as I hate everyone in there.”
“Well, as long as its all equal,” was my probably less-than-helpful response. He came in and ate with us all anyway.
Some good church folk had expressed worry that the drop-in folks would scare aware the families with young kids. But the kids seemed oblivious and unafraid – more interested in getting another balloon animal after their first one had burst from squeezing. The Pearson Daycare staff were busy painting children's faces - making them all strange and scary-looking too.
If the parents were concerned, they didn’t show it; mixing with the crowd to get the burgers and dogs as they trickled in, off the grill. I’m guessing they were used to sharing this neighbourhood on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. More accustomed to rubbing shoulders with who-ever than our church folks who drive in from the suburbs.
And it was shoulder to shoulder. Our downstairs Auditorium filled up with neighbours, young and old. The Church folks went into action doing their thing, just like they do whenever the Church feeds itself. Serving tables were set up. Kitchen crew did what the kitchen crew does.
Teens drifted in. I asked them how they heard about it. “Saw the sign outside” and in they came.
Students showed up. “We got a flyer in our door.”
Young families “saw the poster at the library.”
Social workers who live in the neighbourhood “got an email.”
Church ladies Mary and Joan shared a laugh with me about how they seemed to just attract the inebriated in the crowd.
“Like bees to honey” I said.
Joan told us she’d asked a familiar face if he’d been staying out of jail. “He just laughed and hugged me,” she said.
There was an old guy with his head bent to the side in a permanent pose of consideration. He told me about how someone had given him ten bucks while he was waiting for a bus earlier that day. “I guess I owe the world something back,” he concluded. I’m pretty sure he was Jesus dropping by for a burger and some koolaid. But then again, anyone of those strangers could’ve been.
One of my favourite parts of the evening was watching our Fleming Social Work Student, Tim, in action. He’d organized the day, been the point man for volunteers, hustled donations, planned the set-up and the clean-up. My job was to take pictures. When it came time to make the call whether to stay outdoors or head inside ahead of the threatening rain clouds…I loved being able to say, “It’s Tim’s call”.
When people came to me with questions, it was so great to reply “ask Tim”. He did a great job and made it all happen.
It wouldn’t have happened without our Sponsor and Partners, the Peterborough Social Planning Council and the Poverty Reduction Network’s . "Neighbours In Action” Initiative. Their super helpful and talented staff Coordinator Christie Nash pulled together the funding, worked with Tim on so many details, and guided our research efforts.
And that was why we went to all the trouble. Besides the fact that it was just a great thing to do - and a lot of fun. As a Church we are trying to find a new role for us and this building here in this city. A simple survey (about half the people filled one out) told us who they were and what ideas they had about the kinds of activities, programs, or projects they’d like to see in our under-utilized church building.
For me, it was fascinating just to meet the neighbours. Who would come out for free food? Who would come out to support the fun? Who would want to be a part of making this neighbourhood a closer, tighter-knit, community.
Why did the Pearson Daycare staff show up to help make it fun for the kids? Why did the Food not Bombs volunteers show up with veggie burgers and fresh salads? Why did the two buskers, Matt and Matt, on their way home after a hard day, drop in and do a freebie two hour set for us?
I guess it’s the same reason that - as the storm clouds rushed in just before we started serving food - everyone – guests and hosts - pitched in to help move all the tables and chairs inside.
A house is not a home.
A neighbourhood is not a community.
A building with a steeple is not a church.
It takes love to make the transformation happen.
It takes a certain spirit – the spirit of sharing; sharing food, sharing efforts, sharing music, sharing dreams, sharing the struggles.
During the event I got into more than a few theological discussions. Somehow folks spotted me as the resident Holy Man (in spite of my carefully designed disguise. They wanted to know whether we were trying to save souls with this effort.
I got to try out my Celtic spirituality on them – babies are born “saved” I told them. We’re all just trying to get back together to that original place of divine cooperation.
If there was a soul to be saved – it belonged to George Street United Church. As a group of people who passionately care about peace, community, economic justice…how can we possibly "walk our talk" right here in this neighbourhood without linking arms and dancing with the brothers and sisters who share this little part of the cosmos with us?
If we are to imagine ourselves as being in the same “kingdom of heaven” Jesus saw all around him, how can we “see” ourselves as divine creatures in this asphalt garden our Maker’s planted us in?
Those words I just used aren’t as neat and tidy as “Jesus died to save us from the torments of hell”. They aren’t as potent or scary. There’s no common formula to assure me that I’m “in” when I used to be “out”.
I guess we’ll just have to keep workin it out here with us that’s outside that kind of salvation. I ask “Who wants to be "in" when all these good people are on the outs?”
I’m with Mark Twain who said “if dogs don’t go to heaven, I want to go where they go.”
If my neigbours aren’t goin' to heaven, I’ll stay here with them and make heaven on earth til Jesus shows up and tell us it’s so.