When the “Questing Parson” and I were sharing the same Church Building, at his invite of course; one day a man with long flowing thin hair, a full beard, glasses and a cane showed up and took up residence in the church breeze way.
There was nothing unusual about this as Pastor Guy had always let the neighborhood’s homeless find shelter and safety on the grounds of the church.
However, this particular man was sent I believe by God to remind us to be about doing justice, being merciful and walking humble with God.
Chuck showed up at the church after having 2 strokes, 2 heart attacks and triple by-pass surgery. The place he had last lived was also his place of employment and when he was hospitalized the owner of business had no more use for him and let him go, effectively putting him on the streets of Atlanta.
You could not have met a nicer guy. He spent his days picking up around the church and at night keeping an eye on the church property keeping it safe from break-ins and vandals.
After Pastor Guy introduced him to me, he got interested in our ministry because while he was straight he was more then helpful to a couple of gay friends in the Navy to “help them along with their sexual experiences.” The way he had it figured folks in main-line churches just wouldn’t understand him being that helpful, so our church seemed like a good fit.
As time went on, we found out that Chuck had been in the Navy and was for a period of time part of the Viet Nam conflict. Now, I must tell you that experience, coupled with years of heavy drinking (he hasn’t had a drink now for about 5 years) and his strokes had not left him in good shape physically or mentally. He had been robbed of his ability to take care of himself fully and his mental capacity was not the best. He had many stories in his head, many experiences with people in the political arena and other famous folks that just didn’t connect with reality, if you know what I mean…yet by the grace of God he had managed to survive.
For a man who had a damaged heart physically, his spiritual heart was strong and focused. He was always the first to meet new folks at church and make them feel welcome. He was the first to read scripture during service and was just more then happy to help serve communion each week.
From his “breeze way” sleeping quarters he directed new folks who showed up at the church on the “how-to’s” of keeping their area neat, tidy and picked up. He enforced a “no alcohol” policy on church property, using his cane if needed to make the point.
If he had a sandwich to eat and someone showed up hungry then half was theirs…same was true of anything he had including his money, what little he got from doing minor chores, finding loose change or the generosity of strangers.
When the church had a potluck, he would gather the left over food and give it out to anyone who was hungry and many times without them asking…they would show up at the church and the first thing he did was give them something to eat.
Well everything was moving along fine, but then the “Questing Parson” decided to retire and was replace by a pastor from the suburbs who was very nervous around homeless folks and homosexuals, Chuck’s time of staying at the church was quickly coming to an end.
Now, I have lived long enough to know that even if people’s intentions are not the best, God can still work miracles through the crap.
Long story short, our church cut a deal with a local Hotel to let Chuck stay with them. Between, our church, the church of the new pastor and individual donations we managed to pay the weekly bill of $145.00. Now of course this was not a permanent solution and to be honest the new pastor just wanted to be done with this.
After all the church property was infected with LGBT people and they had to be removed before the church could fully recover from it’s lost ways of the last 7 or 8 years. But that is another blog….
Well, when the new pastor found out Chuck had been in the Navy and in Viet Nam, pressure was brought to bear on the VA on “why were they not taking care of their own”?
The new pastor made countless phone calls, wrote several letters and filled out volumes of paper work. God’s hand was in this as Chuck was granted a VA pension of just under $900.00 a month. As I said God works despite why people are doing the things they are doing.
Anyway, back at the Hotel, Chuck fit right in…chatting with the other residents, handing out his food supply and keeping the night watch man company in the wee hours of the morning. He met several new people and told them about the Church having services in the park and brought them to church. He kept me busy with folks he had met and needed help.
The location of the Hotel is exactly 3 miles from where we are worshipping in the park and Chuck walks the full 3 miles every Sunday, rain or shine, in the heat or in the cold, or good air days or bad. Many of us have offered to pick him for Church but he refuses by stating, “I’m a nice guy, I can get to church on my own”. Recently, he at least let’s us give him a ride home on Sunday’s.
The first thing Chuck did when he got his pension was to ask me what a tithe was. I explained and he directed me to take $80.00 per month and give it to the church as his tithe and offering. I was speechless…Chuck’s room rent was $628.33 per month which really left him about $200.00 a month to get food and other essentials.
At one point I had to ask him to give me his ATM card because every time someone needed $10.00, $15.00 or $20.00 he would give it to them no questions asked and never know if they were going to give it back.
He spends his days chatting and visiting and if a person has some need he tries to meet it and if he can’t he calls the church to let us know someone needs help. He constantly asks about the prayer needs of people and if they have been answered and has made some pretty outstanding offers of support when those prayers have not be answered in Chuck’s time frame.
He has stories, oh my God does he have stories and if you give him the chance he will tell you ever one of them sometimes twice just for good measure.
This is a man who has paid to fix people’s cars, paid their utilities bills, bought their groceries and even offered to pay their mortgages so they wouldn't be homeless.
When I explain to Chuck he does not have enough money to do these things and still keep a roof over his head and eat, I get Chuck’s finger pointing in my face and his standard remark; “I’m a nice guy, I have lived on the streets before, I can do it again and survive, but this person can’t and shouldn’t cause God knows it’s not right for them!”
There is a TV commercial that plays late at night, stating that Jesus the Christ has in fact returned and is living among us. They give you a number to call if you want to find who and where He is.
I don’t need to call the number, because I have seen the living Spirit of the Christ up close and personal and he reminds all who will listen, “Hey I’m a nice guy!”
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.