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Church on the Street: Restaurant served big plate of humanity

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  • May 11, 2018

When I started out on the Church on the Street, I gave little thought to some of the logistics of such a ministry apart from determining that it would be 8 p.m. onwards every Thursday evening.

I was armed with many years of pastoral ministry and enough theological books and notes from St. Augustine’s Seminary that could sink the proverbial battleship. However, it quickly became apparent that I had either missed or fallen asleep during a couple of essential courses: Finding a washroom at 11 p.m. downtown and finding a place to warm up at midnight when the temperature is minus-20.

Desperation being the mother of invention, I solved the former problem by finding a hotel that I could sneak into through an underground parking entrance and then take the elevator to the second floor where there was a corner washroom whose door was always ajar. Now, any sane deacon would have asked himself the question, “What if I get caught?,” but it seemed a good idea at the time.

The second problem became a little harder to resolve as all the restaurants closed by 11 p.m. Fortunately, just as winter appeared, this problem, too, was resolved when I happened upon an out of the way “greasy spoon” which was on the perimeter of the area where I walked. I knew when I entered that this was not only a temporary haven from the cold, but in fact a meeting place for many from the Church on the Street.

I had barely taken my place at a table when two women looked at my clerical collar and came over to talk with me.

“This is freaky,” one said. “We are born-again Christians and my friend here has just had her highest ever score on that video game over there. Guess what it was.” The futility of guessing crossed my mind, however, I did hazard the guess that it was somewhere around one million.

“No, don’t be silly,” she said. “It was 316, just like verse 3:16 in John’s Gospel: ‘God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son.’ Then you walked in. Freaky, eh?”

Not waiting for my profound theological opinion, she shouted at two ladies who had just walked in and who were clearly warming up from their work on the streets. My new-found friend introduced me breathlessly, as if I was the only deacon in captivity: “This is a deacon.”

The ladies laughed and said, “Yes we know, we see him all the time.” With that, a worker in the restaurant came over, introduced himself and whispered, “Could you please pray for me. I used to be the best female impersonator in the city, but now I have AIDS and I am not sure how long I have to live.”

This was the beginning of a friendship which extended for several months until I finally lost track of him. Rumour had it that he had gone to Casey House which specializes in HIV/AIDS care, but when I enquired I was told that this information was confidential.

As I was leaving, an elderly lady at the back of the restaurant summoned me and held out her crucifix. “Would you bless my crucifix?” she asked in a frail voice.

As I blessed it, she started to devoutly pray in Latin and when finished she explained, “When I was a girl I went to Loretto Abbey which is run by the nuns, but now I’m afraid even to go into a church. I just can’t go inside,” she said. “Could you bring communion to my house?”

I told her that this was perhaps not wise, but if she wanted communion I would bring it the following week and if she prepared herself then she could receive. 

The following week, at the back of the restaurant, she devoutly received the body of Jesus and tears appeared in her eyes in thanksgiving as her two friends fell silent in respect.

For many years this restaurant became my temporary out-of-the-cold respite, until finally it made way for the ubiquitous condominiums which laid waste to the old neighbourhood.

Strange as the restaurant was, with the most diverse cross-section of humanity you might ever wish to meet, somehow I think Jesus would have felt right at home. 

(Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto: robert.kinghorn@ekinghorn.com

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