hobo church and the return of evening prayer


last night, snuggling into the plush down and bamboo heaven that is our bed, where tim was folding laundry on the other half of it, i said to him, through a sigh, “honey, i feel hopeful.”

yes, to use an over-used but apt phrase, hope is dawning in my heart. and so much in one day!

1. hobo church

the church was one that we found last week on a walk around our neighborhood. a walk tim made me take because i was in a melancholic mood and he figured it’d be good to get me outside of the house and outside of myself. it’s a small white, wood-sided church with its main sanctuary doors sealed shut and a no trespassing sign for good measure. but the side door has a hand-scrawled note in permanent marker on poster board, that says, “no alcohol or alcohol drinking allowed inside.” followed by a short description of when the building was open. i told tim that the nature of this sign indicates that there are probably a goodly number of hobos to be found around the place. we resolved we’d visit for Sunday morning service the upcoming weekend.

we put on something a little more nice than we normally wear to the modern, contemporary services we normally attend in madison, and walked the two blocks to the tiny church. we went in that side door with the sign advising us that alcoholic beverages aren’t permitted and followed our ears down to the basement. as we rounded the corner, we saw several folding tables at which sat probably 20-25 hobos! and there was a counter opposite with three middle-aged men serving up spaghetti, cole slaw, and garlic bread. though we were pleasantly surprised, we DID want to go to service, so we inquired of the servers, who directed us upstairs, and told us to be sure to come back down afterwards and have something to eat.

the sanctuary is very small, with only a couple dozen pews, and on them sat approximately 8 people. the preacher, a 70-something gentleman holding a methodist song book, waved at us when we came in and then continued on with the litany, which was periodically punctuated with commentary from another 70-something man whose name we gathered to be Eugene, and who appeared to have some axes to grind with The World, which was going to hell in a handbasket. every time Eugene interrupted he was kindly patted on the arm by the woman in the pew in front of him, and asked to shush. the preacher made lots of jokes, a behavior that seemed congruent with the smile lines and general joy that covered his countenance. he spoke about All Saints Day (which was yesterday, didn’t you know?) and the fact that each of us has a place in the creation of God, before, during, and after life as we know it. the singing was off-key and off rhythm, but it was hearty.

a woman named shirley introduced herself to us after the service. she was the one who’d been patting eugene’s arm and shushing him during the sermon. now she wanted to tell us a bit about her family — the best place ever, she said. she’s been a part of the clan since 1962, back before they had a building. the first minister of the church was a recovering alcoholic and he had desired to create a mission in which others like him could have support and encouragement to recover as well. so for many years they centered their communal life around that purpose, even having up to 10 homeless, recovering alcoholics at a time sleeping in various rooms of the church (everywhere but the sanctuary). they kept the doors open all the time and folks could come in to shelter from the weather, get a bite to eat, or doze. shirley shone with pride as she gave us this tour guide through the church’s past. then she gave us a tour, and every time we would pass a lock or a sign that instructed people about Dos and Don’ts, she would scoff and remark about what nonsense it was.

t got a plate of food and we found a seat at a table next to a guy our age, named ryan. his story of homeless had to do with currency trading failures and credit card debt combined with a fierce stubbornness and refusal to admit defeat. for a year he’s been staying in shelters and taking his meals at places like this church, all the while scheming how to get a Big Break if he could only find some cash to reinvest in the markets. all around us as we talked, men sat at nearby tables, mostly quietly. i was itchy to be able to do the rounds, to learn more faces, to hear more stories.

finally when the lunch line closed at noon, t and i gathered ourselves and our jackets and walked out the door. we saw the car belonging to our neighbors at the “Chiropractic Office” parked outside, and the older couple it belonged to, and whom t had recently helped carry some things inside, getting inside of it. we walked home, hand in hand, and i waited for t to say what i thought (and prayed) that he would. he said, “i really liked being there.” i said, “me too.” we decided we’d like to come around again. and again. and see what God does.

but, you see, it felt like God saying, “i see you, sweetheart. i see those longings not yet dead for living in my kingdom among the poor and the addicted. i like that you want in on that and i’ve put that in your heart.” so here, a mere two blocks from our house, lies a community of people who my heart is drawn to on multiple levels. and, gratefully, t’s heart is also bending that way.

2. evening prayer

(here i will cut and paste some of what i wrote to my fellow boiler room leaders about the topic)

on tuesday night  jake and tim and i took the Transit girls to Oshkosh for the launch of their 24-7 prayer room and two weeks of unending prayer. there was LIFE over that place and over those students…. a vibrancy and expectancy of God’s ability and desire to radically change their hearts and their campus. i started remembering all the times that i have tasted that fullness, the sort of vibrancy of spirit-drenched prayer and radical obedience that makes worship songs make sense, and i nearly wept for missing it. late that night when we got home, tim and i were laying in bed processing the evening and i shared my heart with him about this, my longing for MORE. and, to my surprise, he agreed with me and prayed out that something is off, that he’s at the end of himself and wants to repent of smoothing things over and being content with things staying as they are. we kept praying together for quite a while and the Lord gave us a couple of specific things to request in prayer for our community, then tim also felt this nudge to begin a short season of more intensely seeking God in prayer… making the sacrifices of sleep and schedule if we have to, because we’re convinced that God has more for us and we want to lay hold of it. and in that moment, i realized that i was no longer willing to try to talk myself out of my longing for more. I don’t buy that because we’re not in a certain phase of life (college) we cannot have the singleness of passion, that quality of whole-heartedness. I want to see the life of the Spirit of God over us; i want to see us praying with expectancy and experiencing more fruit of the kingdom in our individual and corporate lives. and i’m ready to wrestle God for it. we both are. i see now that there are lots of folks in our community also ready.

SO tim sat on this all week, each of us praying into it in our own prayer times. this weekend we checked in with one another about what we were sensing and we felt nudged to initiate a season of whole-hearted seeking in the form of nightly gathering in the upstairs prayer room from 9 to 10 pm from now until the 13th (when we head to Stockbridge on a pilgrimage). after that, we’ll discern what God might be saying about whether to keep it going, alter it, or be done. we just wonder what God might have in store for us when we give Him plenty of space to speak into our lives.

through all of this, my spirit is quickened again, and i feel strength returning to me at the mere thought of doing this… of being unabashedly desperate for Him and open-hearted for Him to rock our worlds. i keep thinking of one of Tony’s favorite sayings, “we order our lives around prayer, rather than ordering prayer around our lives.” that’s how i’m thinking of this endeavor.

so, there it is: hope dawning.

thank you and come, Lord Jesus, come.


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