I get asked a lot what my day is like — as in, “Pastor, just what is it that you do all day?” And honestly, most of my days are spent living out the words of Matthew 25:31-40. I know for some this might sound hokey, but it is truly what I spend most of my time doing. So, I want to share with you the story of Kurt [not his real name], a young man who came to my attention after he found himself in a local jail after an accidental brush with the law. By the time I got to the jail, I had been told that Kurt had just been casually informed by a jail employee that the “mandatory intake blood work” revealed Kurt to be HIV-positive. Then they had tossed him into his cell to be alone with this new knowledge. So he was alone in his cell with the agony of knowing his life now had a terrible and awful stigma attached to it. When I met with Kurt I could tell that in his eyes, his world was crumbling. He believed that when he left the jail he’d have nowhere to live, no job, and a new medical condition that he didn’t know the first thing about. When I walked into the visitation area, I could also see in Kurt’s eyes that he thought I had come to preach to him. But that’s not my style. I let Kurt tell me his story, and I comforted him. As he shared his story, I listened. Sometimes he would stop and look at me as if to say, “This is where it really gets bad; this is where I really messed up.” And I would tell him, “Go on — there is nothing you are saying or telling me that would cause me to walk away.” When he finished, I suggested to him that he was not any different from the prodigal son Luke 15:11-32. I shared with him he was a child of God, and that this jail time and new medical stuff was not the end but could in fact be a wonderful new beginning. I invited him to come by the church office when he got released so we could see about getting him a job, a place to live and some referrals for his medical challenge. A few days later we were in my office, and I walked him over to a local restaurant where he got an interview and a job. The connections were made for him to get proper medical treatment, and the hunt for housing is underway. Almost every week I meet someone like Kurt. Someone who’s just lost something — or maybe everything. And every week I try to help them get it back. In the last few months, our church and the friends of Gentle Spirit Christian Church have helped three people find housing, five people find jobs, and one person overcome an almost lifelong addiction. I wish I could say this was an occasional happening, but it is not. Every day there is someone who needs to be fed (with either food or affirmation), someone who needs clothing, someone who needs a drink (of either water or spiritual nourishment), someone who needs a visit at their home, hospital, hospice or jail, someone who needs an advocate, someone who needs a friend. I used to think all this stuff was for someone else to do, some agency or community group… But the message of Matthew 25:31-40 says clearly that it is my job, it is our job, and everything else is secondary. In other words, do these things and everything else will be fine. And you know, today as I think about Kurt, I wouldn’t have it any other way. God bless, Pastor Paul
Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church and Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He was called to Atlanta in 1994 to pastor All Saints MCC. Five years later he founded Gentle Spirit Christian Church. He lives in Decatur with his husband Bill, who he met in 1982 while living and working in Ohio and legally married in 2015.