On June 17, Ryan Althaus arrived in Portland and posted this on his Facebook page: “Dear Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) friends. I write this from my van (where I’m sleeping this week) next to the tent community 2 blocks from the convention center for Portland GA. As the Presbytery of San Jose Hunger advocate and a tent making 1001 New Worshiping Communities pastor reflecting on $200 rooms and $55 per day per diems, I present you with a challenge: See how frugally you can eat this week and with the excess, take at least 1 homeless individual out for a meal; furthermore, SIT WITH THEM allowing them to share their stories to feed their physical hunger as well as their craving for engagement.”
Althaus, whose “Sweaty Sheep” program hosts weekly athletic training and recovery-based community yoga programs for the homeless, spent General Assembly living with those on the margins of society in Portland. The “houseless” members of Portland’s tent communities were quick to invite Ryan into their “home,” said Althaus.
“They fed me this week, literally and spiritually. Last evening they invited me to visit an organized encampment a few blocks away, run by the residents and complete with a check-list system designed to keep track and care for the space and those living in it. I almost didn’t want to leave … I was experiencing the essence of communion; further exemplified by the (somewhat) fresh loaf of bread they gifted me with! A snack almost as tasteful as the artichoke pizza pulled from a dumpster during a friendly dive with one of my new neighbors!”
Althaus was upbeat and positive about the experience; however, it reiterated the difficulties of homelessness we commonly overlook.
“Did you know the city locks the port-a-potties at night, but complains about individuals going to the bathroom outdoors? And I have to apologize to my coworkers who get too close to me this week as finding a place for a shower has been hard. However, I have seen God at work in and through the community that I have lived with this week and hope others will take the chance to expand their community beyond walls of housing.”
Another group that chose to be present with those on the margins in Portland was the National Hispanic/Latino-a Presbyterian Caucus. According to the moderator of the caucus, Tony Aja, instead of having a banquet, the caucus decided to sponsor a mission service project at a homeless shelter.
“Participants joined guests in chapel, served them the meal, bussed tables and joined people experiencing homelessness in solidarity,” Aja said. “No fancy banquet for us!” The National Hispanic/Latino-a Presbyterian Caucus also took it a step further and donated the $1,000 they would have spent on a banquet to the Union Gospel Mission of Portland.
Althaus, the National Hispanic/Latino-a Presbyterian Caucus, and many other Presbyterians in Portland this week chose to follow the gospel call to be present with those living in the margins. They didn’t do this in a spirit of judgment, but in a spirit of love. They found that love warmly reciprocated, as together they lived (housed and homeless, and embracing diversity of race, ethnicity, age and gender) into the “hope of our calling,” the theme of this General Assembly.