A Message from San Francisco Night Ministry

A Message from San Francisco Night Ministry

I have the best job in the world and my fondest hope is that no one would need me to do it. I am the lead Night Minister for San Francisco Night Ministry. I or one of my fellow night ministers are on the street every night of the year from 10 pm until 4 am providing compassionate, nonjudgemental care and presence to those living outside, those who live inside but need to resort to panhandling to meet their basic needs, and anyone else who wants or needs our care, including the occasional bartender, partygoer, or bouncer. I love this work because it gives me the opportunity to meet and hear the stories of so many people I would otherwise never have the chance to get to know. I love this work because what Night Ministry does, and makes room for our parishioners to do, makes a real difference in the lives of many. We make this difference through our presence on the streets each night, through the two open air worship services, Open Cathedral Civic Center and Open Cathedral Mission, and the Bible study we offer each week, through our service as an ACPE accredited training center for students doing their Clinical Pastoral Education, and through the volunteer staffed phone line we answer every night.

I’ll offer one example. One of our parishioners, who has given me permission to share his story, suffered a bad bout of meningitis several years ago. The meningitis and subsequent complications left him hospitalized for many weeks. Along with the wonderful medical professionals at the hospital, a big part of what kept him ticking through those days were his friends from Open Cathedral coming to visit him. Many of them were living outside or very marginally housed themselves, the congregants from Open Cathedral would scrape together enough money to take several busses across town to visit this young man, to buy him a burrito (his favorite) when he wouldn’t eat, and encouraged him to keep trying. When he was released to Laguna Honda he was nearly bed bound and not very motivated to do the hard work to get his strength back. I tried to get him thinking about some of his old dreams from before he was sick, but nothing stuck. What did get him trying to get up and trying to get stronger was when I said, “If you’re well enough by Easter, do you want to come to church.” Seeing his congregation was the motivation he needed. It was down to the wire, but his doctor gave approval for him to come to church on Wednesday of that Holy Week. I asked one of the ushers (whom we draw from the congregation) to help me because I could not lift this young man from his wheelchair into my van and we got him to church. He received a lot of love that day and it strengthened him. In a couple of weeks he was ready to try again. Soon he was coming to church every week. The weeks progressed and he was able to transfer himself from his wheelchair to my car with little help. He was told he would not walk again, but months later, after he was released to community housing, he did. He still comes every week, but is back to his old role of helping us set up for church, hand out lunches, and provide a welcoming atmosphere for the congregation.  Though he is housed, he will sometimes sleep outside to watch over friends whom he knows are having a hard time. I truly believe that without Open Cathedral this young man would not have lived, and he cites the caring he received from his congregation and his love of God as the motivation for the caring he shows others now.

If I had space for a longer article, I could tell you many such stories. When you support Night Ministry, you support work that comforts, encourages, and sometimes saves a life. My fondest hope is that one day everyone will have a enough food, shelter, and love that ministries like Night Ministry are no longer needed. Until then we rely primarily on the support of individuals to be able to serve as the church’s night shift. You can learn more about us or make a donation at sfnightministry.org . If you’d ever like to come walk with me one night to see first hand what we do, please drop me a line at valerie@sfnightministry.org.

Blessings,
Rev. Valerie McEntee

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