By Jill Murphy
I am standing at the riverfront in downtown Wilmington. The boardwalk is peaceful tonight and the water is calm as the sun begins to set and the temperature steadily drops. I am there in the company of pastors from the office of New Faith Communities. These pastors are called to plant churches that create new spaces for new people to be gathered into communion with Jesus Christ. We are here as a group to serve at Walking Tall Wilmington, to support Randy Evans and to serve where he serves.
As I look around at the 15 or so homeless people standing under the shelter by the riverfront, I spot a gray-haired elderly man at a back table. He looks cold, because it is cold; this is something we all have in common tonight.
I am drawn to him even though he looks angry to be sitting there. I smile as I ask if I can sit with him. He kindly accepts me, the stranger, into his space.
Randy from Walking Tall Wilmington has prepared a warm meal to share with those he is called to serve. Together we listen to Randy’s blessing of the meal and then the line for the homemade supper begins. I see the elderly man wince.
“Are you ok?” I ask.
In a rough baritone voice, I hear, “Honey, I’m always in pain.”
“Can I stand in line for you tonight and bring you a meal?”
He thinks on this for a moment and agrees to allow me to prepare his plate. I put a portion of everything on Braxton’s plate and bring it back to him. Braxton is a war vet. He doesn’t talk much about his war experience except to say he was on the cleanup crew. I imagine that statement alone brings vivid images into his mind. I imagine, if he let himself, he could even hear the sounds and smells of that time.
Soon we are joined by a middle-aged man. He is as bundled up as the rest of us on this winter night in January. He tells me his name is Skull, but his Christian name is Dexter.
Skull is much more talkative. He tells me stories of his past jobs as a truck driver and a photographer. He tells me about his snake tattoo which stretches from his wrist all the way up to his shoulder. He even gives me a glimpse of it by pushing up his jacket sleeve and pulling down his jacket collar. He smiles and lets out a small laugh when he tells me it is named after a pet snake he used to have, Sugar. He came up with that name from a phrase his grandmother used to say, “Come give me some sugar.” As a child, he knew that meant she wanted to give him a loving kiss on his cheek. He even pointed to the very spot on his face as if he could feel it. This is a memory that he keeps at the forefront of his mind and doesn’t mind sharing with a guest at his table.
Our storytelling stopped when Randy ended the night in prayer and communion. He was joined by Rev. Greg Moore who blessed the bread and grape juice as the Holy body and blood of Christ and invited everyone to this meal.
Skull joined me in line, but Braxton stayed in the back. I can only wonder and make assumptions as to why. I hope one day Braxton sees that he is welcome at Christ’s table, just as he welcomed me to his.
Until then, Walking Tall Wilmington will keep showing up at the waterfront. Randy will keep serving meals to care for God’s creation, and most importantly, celebrate communion with those who may not enter into a church building made of brick. That is holistic mission and the reason why we serve.