By Lisa Diehl, Kansas communications director
Being appointed to do nothing is harder than you think, Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith told those gathered at the Come Celebrate event Aug. 4 at the west campus of Lawrence First United Methodist Church.
|Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith talks about her ministry among the homeless. (photo by Lisa Diehl)|
“I was appointed to do nothing but communicate the love of God,” Smith said. “It’s harder than you think. We in the church get caught up in doing and doing and doing something.”
Smith served in the military and had a secular career before answering a call to ordained ministry.
After graduating from Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., she was appointed to a church in San Antonio. Smith wanted to continue to minister to those less fortunate as she had throughout her life and asked her pastor-parish relations committee if she could open up the parsonage and offer shelter to someone in need. They told her “no.”
“That’s where it started,” Smith said. “I had been doing ministry most of my life. I always felt God calling me to help people on the margins. Something I could do as a lay person, I couldn’t do as a clergy.”
That frustration led her to begin conversations with her bishop about a unique ministry living among the poor on the streets of San Antonio.
“San Antonio is a tourist center, and there’s been a lot of pressure to get the poor out of downtown,” she said.
There are no public restrooms, so people living on the streets are ticketed for answering nature’s call and for sleeping in public places. Churches are ticketed for offering meals to the poor.
A shelter was built between the city jail and the railroad tracks. The shelter is publicly funded, and funds that used to be given to churches to help with poverty programs now are funneled into this shelter instead.
“I went to the shelter, but I was kicked out because they said my communion set could be a weapon,” she said.
She refused to part with the communion set, so she was turned away.
She went to a park to find a bench on which to sleep. She received a ticket for sleeping in public. When she appeared in court for the ticket, she was sentenced to community service at the shelter that refused to let her in. She refused to do the community service, so a warrant was issued for her arrest. She turned herself in during the summer and was fined $150. She hasn’t paid the fine, so another warrant has been issued for her.
“Now, I carry a wooden set,” Smith said. “It’s really, really light. I still can’t get into the shelter with it.”
But she’s not about to part with it. The communion set has allowed her to witness to her faith in Jesus Christ and Christ’s presence with us, she said.
“We’re homeless. We don't have the bread and juice,” she said. “But we pretend it’s there, and it has the same effect.”
Smith said she doesn’t expect to solve the issues of poverty, but she is learning a lot that she hopes she will be able to share with others from this experience.
“I don’t do charity work, so I can develop real relationships with people living on the streets. I’m there to listen,” she said. “I can communicate the love of Jesus Christ by being present among them and with them.”
She said she has discovered tremendous hospitality on the streets. Once you begin building trust and relationships, you can find out where it’s safe to get food, find shelter and get health care.
“That’s what’s transforming me,” Smith said.
See photos from the event at http://www.kansaseast.org/galleries/detail/39.