I have a friend named Bill who comes to church at Forefront Manhattan every Sunday. When I say that he is my friend, I mean it. He is my friend. I cherish our friendship for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that he tells me stories about his life that blow my mind. Bill has been through more in his lifetime than I’ll ever understand. For instance, he is war veteran. He was in active duty in Vietnam as a gunner in a helicopter. While he was at war he sustained some injuries that make it hard for him to see well, and even to stand up straight. Bill walks with his face almost parallel to the ground because his back and legs are in so much pain. That pain in exacerbated by Bill’s living situation. He’s from Pittsburgh, and even still own a home there, but he now sleeps on the street a block away from the Gramercy theatre. He has to deal with all of the difficulties that come along with being homeless, including the stigmas that are applied to him by people who don’t know him. I’ll never know what thats like.
For the first 6 months I knew Bill, I would say “it’s good to see you!” and every time he would respond, “you don’t mean that.” I really do mean it every time I say it, but I understand that it means less coming from a pastor who is paid to be glad to see you, but I really meant it.
Bill didn’t believe that I was glad to see him, but he kept coming. Once he admitted to me that he used to come just for the free coffee and bagels, which is true for most of us at least one Sunday a month. Am I right?
Soon Bill realized that I wasn’t just saying that I was glad to see him, and that I wasn’t the only one.
Last fall, the Manhattan staff put together a “playbook” for Sunday mornings that included detailed instructions from every volunteer team leader for what has to happen in order for Sunday mornings to run smoothly. Angie, our coffee team leader, printed out instructions for her team on how to set up in the morning, and at the top of the list there is a note that says,
“Billy will probably come in early, around 9:15. He likes his coffee with 4 sugars and 2 creamers. He also like everything bagels with regular cream cheese. Try to have it ready for him when he gets here.”
Bill doesn’t go unnoticed here.
A couple months ago, I ran into Bill outside of a McDonalds down the street, and we chatted for a while. He told me about when his best friend died in combat. His friend was a gunner as well. He was shot by anti aircraft artillery while in the same helicopter as Bill. As he told the story, I saw his eyes begin to well up in tears. I put my hand on his shoulder and he just started to cry.
We cried together.
A couple minutes passed and we just stood there. Then he broke the silence and told me about a time when he went to his son’s 6th grade open house with a giant smudge of chocolate icing on his face. He didn’t know it was there. He ate some cake his wife had made before leaving the house and didn’t notice he had smeared in across his cheek. He said, ‘Here I thought all the moms were checking me out! I was walking down the hall thinking, ‘I may be an old man, but I’m still sexy!’ Then I got in my truck, and saw my face in the rear view.”
We laughed together.
Before leaving, I said, “I gotta go! It was good to see you, Bill.” He grabbed my arm and looked up into my eyes and just said, “I believe you mean that.”
Conventional wisdom says that a homeless man cannot possibly be a fully accepted part of the church community. But Bill is.
He is together in this as well, because we give out free coffee and bagels, and because we can afford to rent out the Gramercy Theatre every Sunday, and because there are people who are glad to see Bill, the homeless war veteran from Pittsburgh who has lived more life than I ever will and just wants to share it with someone while he’s still alive. Bill is connected to others, and to God. His life is being renewed and his soul is being awakened.
That is why we ask you to give to Forefront. Because it matters. Because God wants to remind people that they matter to God.
That is just one of the reasons I #LoveForefront.