A ministry of exposure…

As with most cities these days, we’ve seen an influx of homeless people. Because of the inviting shady and lush green park on the east side of our church, St. James Episcopal, we’ve been an especially popular place for the homeless during our recent heat wave.

One homeless visitor to the church was particularly entertaining and a little bit scary for some of our members.

My wife first discovered him when she was inside the church and opened the outside door leading to the sacristy. He was sitting on the sidewalk next to the door, dressed in a red and gold robe, new blue tennis shoes, a tattoo of his name “James” on his neck and not much else. After almost stepping on him, my surprised wife engaged in conversation with him while she was waiting for me to arrive to help her with a problem with the church sound system. The fact that she reacted so calmly to his presence was both surprising and gratifying to me.

James, at the sacristy door of St. James’

When I arrived, I talked to him a little more and asked that he clean up his “nest” by the sacristy door and be aware that he could be frightening to some of the older women who enter the church through that door to prepare for services.

Sure enough, a few days later, James was leaning on the door again when a member of the Altar Guild opened it and he halfway tumbled inside the church. She was frightened by the man and he eventually left without causing any more problems.

The following Sunday, when my wife and I were on the way to the church, I got a call from our Senior Warden (Episcopal-speak for head of the church governing board) saying James was at the side of the church again, this time wearing nothing at all. She had called to warn Margo not to use that entrance. She also said she had called police to respond to the situation.

When I got there, James was fully exposed for the world to see, wearing only his blue tennis shoes. He quickly began wrapping himself in his red and gold robe and put on some gold lame’ pants. I approached him and told him that I didn’t think it was appropriate for him to be at the church on a Sunday wearing no clothes. He pleasantly agreed.

About that time, the police arrived and approached the two of us.

“Let’s move along, James,” the officer admonished the homeless man.

“You know his name?” I asked the policeman.

“Yeah, he’s one of our ‘frequent flyers,'” he responded.

James wandered off toward Interstate 10 after gathering up his accoutrements, snacks and water and we haven’t seen on the church grounds since. We have spotted him walking along nearby University Ave. a couple of times,

Our visiting priest on the day that James appeared naked was Father Tom. He was unfazed by the incident and saw the humor in it. He tossed off the best quip of the day.

“I guess we’ll just have to refer to him as ‘St. James, the Naked.'”

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