immersion: a state of being deeply engaged or involved; being absorbed by.
I see them every time I drive to church. On park benches, in shady corners, on church steps. In alleyways, on street corners, under bridges. So often I turn my eyes the other way so as to not intrude in their way of life.
But not today. Today we walk. We immerse. We get involved. We become absorbed by.
Once a month we gather together to walk the streets of midtown Atlanta. We put our mantra into action …
Be the change, be the gospel.
Although our congregation offers a warm meal to our homeless neighbors five days a week, they still have to come to us. This time, we step outside of our own walls to go to them. We go to their turf. We bring them food and offer conversation and prayer.
Before we walk, we gather around tables in our worship space, slathering peanut butter and jelly on bread to make sandwiches. Some bag fruit, fill coolers with ice cold water and load up the wagons … all getting ready to hit the streets.
Depending on how many people we have, we sometimes split up into multiple groups, heading to the many different places we know our homeless neighbors live. Equal parts touching, uplifting and eye opening, we get a first hand experience of what the homeless in Atlanta are facing during the more scorching months.
And every time we walk, we discover these folks are often in need of more than just food and water. Many times our smiles, outstretched hands, and gentle conversation are appreciated more than the sustenance we have to offer. Sometimes they’ll refuse the sandwich. Oh, I’m on a diet, they’ll say. So we offer water and fruit and simply spend time with them.
One of our walkers is a mere 7 years of age – and watching him is like watching Jesus himself. Riding on his scooter, he reaches out to shake hands with the people he meets. He offers both kind words and prayer. And many times he’ll pray for people right there on the city streets.
That little guy … he gets it. It’s not just about handing out food and water. It’s not even about taking it to them instead of making them come to us. It’s about community. It’s about hearing their stories. Learning who they are. Seeing them as one of us … beloved children of God …
It’s about becoming deeply engaged. Completely absorbed by. Once you’ve been immersed … you can’t look away like you used to. They’re no longer “the homeless on the streets.” They are people with stories. Faces with names. Part of our community.
Immersion walks are a ministry of House of the Rock, a worship service held in the basement of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in midtown Atlanta. House of the Rock, based on Psalm 62:2: “God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken,” gathers at 6:22 p.m. every Sunday.
Thanks to Jon Waterhouse for his help with all the details about House of the Rock and the immersion walk.