Serving Strangers: “Let’s Get Lost Together”

Hebrews 13:2 NRSV

2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

John 13:20 NRSV

20Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’

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I recently made a visit to the OU Medical Center on South Lincoln Boulevard in Oklahoma City, very near to our State Capitol Building. I was visiting a member of First Church Moore (facebook.com/MooreFUMC | twitter.com/moorechurch) who was awaiting surgery. This was my first pastoral visit to the OU Medical Center, and I had no idea how expansive it was! OU Presbyterian is flanked by several other specialty buildings and parking lots.

I began my visit, naturally, by entering the wrong parking lot. Construction crews served as visible signs of growth and development in the area, but also served to block me off in an area dead-ended by bulldozers. When I finally made it back to the main street, located the appropriate parking garage, and made it to the correct door of OU Presbyterian, I very much felt like this:

Finally! The cheese I've been looking for!
Finally! The cheese I’ve been looking for!

With my clergy name tag on, I had an all-access pass to getting the information I needed quickly and efficiently to find where the parishioner was awaiting her operation. With a clergy name tag on, I was also involved (as clergy usually are) in awkward conversations on the elevator:

Person in the elevator: So, you are a minister?

Me: Yes, I serve the United Methodist Church in Moore.

Person: Oh. I went to church once.

Me: Great! Have you ever thought about going more than once?

Person: Yes, but I don’t like ‘organized’ religion.

Me: I see. 

Person: My parents both died in this hospital. Oh! Here’s my floor. Bye.

Sometimes clergy in hospitals are the recipients of all kinds of information!

I made it to the room, talked and prayed with the parishioner, her husband, and her husband’s brother, and I mentally retraced my steps back to the door I used to enter the building. What I saw when I came out of OU Presbyterian was a familiar and disheartening sight. A woman was standing in the middle of the walkway, reaching out to passers-by, hoping they would stop and hear her story. “Excuse me, Sir? Excuse me, Miss? Can someone please help me?” We see this all the time: people lost; people with flat tires; and people who are poor, hungry, and possibly homeless. We hear it over the phone and through emails, on the radio and on television commercials. I hear it when people come into my office at the end of their proverbial rope. All kinds of people are all kinds of lost.

Even when we try, it is hard to hide the visible signs of experiencing "lostness" in its many forms.
Even when we try, it is hard to hide the visible signs of experiencing “lostness” in its many forms.

This woman wasn’t homeless and she wasn’t asking for money or food. Standing outside of the hospital asking for help from everyone who passed, she could have experienced the loss of a loved one, the loss of her car keys or purse, or even the loss of the memory of where she parked her car.  On other days, as a pastor who is also a full-time seminary student, I might have rushed past her to get to the next event, the next class, the next thing my Google calendar reminds me to go to. Not this day. On this day, I stopped – having just gone through some ‘lostness’ myself.

The woman was so grateful that I stopped at her bidding that she started crying. She didn’t have her phone with her, she couldn’t remember where she parked, and she realized that she had come to the wrong building. She saw that I had an iPhone in my hand and asked if I could look up some Eye Institute for her that she knew was a part of this medical complex. I tried to do just that, but my 3G service was dragging terribly and I couldn’t get anything to load. So, I simply said:

I can’t load a map, but I think I know the building you are talking about. Can I walk with you?”

We only traveled a short distance before we spotted top of the Eye Institute between a sky bridge and a parking garage. She thanked me, commenting that I looked like her grandson, who lived with her now, and went on her way. Again, sometimes our professions open us up to receiving personal information about others’ lives without even asking for it.

My fellow staff members and even my wife and my friends often make fun of me for wearing my name tag all the time:

photo

However, I have found that from supermarkets to hospitals to sporting events, it helps people who are feeling lost to see someone who might be able to at least listen to them in their lostness, and if appropriate perhaps even walk a little of that journey with them – even if it is only a few feet to the Eye Institute, or a brief moment on an elevator when someone shares with you the loss of their parents.

I would hope, however, that I would’ve stopped to help even if I hadn’t been wearing that name tag. I would hope that I would’ve been willing to walk with someone in pain, someone feeling lost.

I entertained an angel that day, I think. And I thought about all the angels I’ve walked past. One day, at the corner of NW 23rd and I-35, I took a clergy parking permit off of my rearview mirror so a homeless man wouldn’t see that I was a pastor – so I would feel better about driving away.

Sometimes clergy get lost, too.

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