It’s happened twice.
Most recently, a homeless man, Hector, took up residence in the protected corner created by the brick wall at the corner of 4th and Race… behind the garden and under the shelter of the Crape Myrtle bush.
It’s not infrequently that someone needing a place to stay finds refuge in some corner of the church property. And, as soon as we realize, we have to talk to him or her, to explain that our property cannot host folks (except when they are in our shelter), and that they will have to move.
What was unusual, however, was the amount of belongings Hector brought… how quickly he had a whole household in his little clearing between the bushes and the brick wall. There were suitcases. And milk crates. And food stuffs. And laundry drying on the branches. Oh, and a futon, and we think for a time he even had a futon frame in there…
As well as sleeping in the courtyard, our temporary guest had taken to watering the garden. He was particularly concerned that the holly tree (that we lost last winter) needed water desperately. We tried to tell him that poor tree was way past desperate, and he really shouldn’t be turning on our hose.
And then he began using the hose to spray water up on the sanctuary building to wash the church windows.
Trying to convince him this was not the place to stay, before we called Homeless Outreach and / or the Police, we found out the heavy rain proved a more effective and quicker dissuasion. But not before Hector had created a painfully wide path through the garden back to his hideaway. He seems to have made the path by trampling — trudging through himself and dragging his stuff — and a wholesale tearing out of plants.
Sadly, I felt worse about the plants.
Which reminded me of the earlier incident. There is another man, Andy, who comes to the Saturday cupboard and breakfast. An irascible sort, he is more likely to greet you with a scowl, than a smile. And it’s not uncommon for him to get riled up and start sputtering curses randomly.
One Saturday, Andy had a particularly difficult day, and we needed to ask him to leave — before being served, getting breakfast or clothes. I wasn’t there that day.
I first came to hear of all this later when I stumbled upon the whole row of snapped white currant plants we had just planted in the narrow bed next to the social hall door. (It was the year the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society was pushing native fruits and vegetables for Urban Gardens.)
Frustrated and angry that he was not served, Andy left the building and proceeded to destroy the first thing he encountered. I suppose we should be happy that his violence was taken out on new plantings, not on any of the people in the Social Hall. Still, I was upset for the currants.
Shouldn’t I be more concerned for the person trying to make a home under a bush than for the Black-eyed Susans and the Russian Sage that were destroyed? Shouldn’t I have more care for Andy who doesn’t have enough to eat and can’t control his emotions than for the white currants that we’re never to be harvested?
My questions remind me of the exchange between God and Jonah (Jonah 4:9-11):
“But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’
And Jonah said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’
Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Ok, I can grieve the lost plants. But I need to work some more on my concern for Hector and Andy.
See you in church,