Entering Relationship with our Neighbors – Jen Shang

This week’s e-news is written by Jen Shang. Jen recently completed a nearly year-long apprenticeship at Christ Church with a focus on homelessness and we are eager to hear from her regarding her work with us.

Dear Christ Church,

Since this past September until this month, I had the privilege of apprenticing at Christ Church in partial fulfillment of my Fuller Theological Seminary’s Master of Divinity program. When Fr. Matt proposed issues related to homelessness as my area of focus, I was intrigued. Before Christ Church moved to its current property at Medina, homelessness wasn’t something on my radar. Back then, the thought of talking with someone experiencing homelessness left me feeling helpless to know what to say or how to act. I was glad for the training I received from various opportunities at Christ Church such as the Street Ministry group and Advocate Befrienders, but still, I had much to learn. I knew the apprenticeship focus would enable my growth and figured I could contribute to Christ Church’s efforts with unhoused ministry, and “check the box” to fulfill my MDiv obligation.

Little did I know, God doesn’t check boxes, He breaks hearts. I had no idea what these next months were going to reveal about the Father, Jesus, how the Spirit moves, our parish and unhoused neighbors.

With Father, Jesus and Spirit I have deeper intimacy with our triune God that never would have been possible had my heart not been undone over things I would have blithely dismissed in the past. Things such as statistics on the amount of schizophrenics who either end up incarcerated or on the streets. Now I carry with me awareness of the injustices the unhoused face. As Brian Fikkert, author of When Helping Hurts states, “the materially poor are trapped by multiple, interconnected factors – insufficient assets, vulnerability, powerlessness, isolation, and physical weakness.” In response to these sad realities, I have a new appreciation for lament and practice it regularly.

During my apprenticeship I also saw hope spring forth in the tangible ways. The Spirit moves and prompts the body of believers to act – including our parish. Over the winter, one small group generously collected cold weather items for our unhoused neighbors. Weeks later when temperatures dropped to dangerous lows another large group of parishioners selflessly walked the streets around our parish to distribute the items and offer rides to warming centers. A large group of parishioners toured the Community First! Village to learn more about their efforts and gather with formerly unhoused residents who live there.

During my apprenticeship, I also wrestled with how to create space for unhoused neighbors who come to church on Sunday after having slept in tents the night before. I became aware that many parishioners slept safely in their beds and may not have considered how our unhoused friends feel in church. I considered the reactions of those parishioners who have never had a conversation with someone who is experiencing homelessness and who possibly feels afraid and uncertain about this being part of their parish. This is where I am grateful for our ampersand culture, for we need both housed and unhoused friends here at Christ Church.

I am also beyond grateful for our stalwart staff who continue to explore and wrestle with these tensions in authentic, charitable, gracious, love-always ways, even though there’s no easy answer when it comes to holding this tension. I have grown in respect with the way our staff not only lives out loving our neighbors on Sundays, but they also live with the hard realities of loving our neighbors and the complexities that come with that throughout the week while working at the church office.

Even though my apprenticeship has officially ended, I continue to press into loving the least of these. After months of focusing on unhoused ministry, I STILL have a lot to learn; but, now I know I will be learning how to do so with a heart that will never be the same. I invite you to join me, leaning into the tension of loving our neighbors, exploring ways we can do so as a church community, and to reflect on the provoking words of Dorothy Day who once said “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”


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