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Evangelism at the Corner of Turk & Taylor

Evangelism at the Corner of Turk & Taylor

The following essay inspired me, and I share it with you with the author’s permission. Humanitarians could learn much about outreach here.

Evangelism at the Corner of Turk & Taylor

Kendall Protzmann, M.Div, Pacific School of Religion


May 12, 2014 at 4:32pm

In my 21st century evangelism course we were asked to observe  people in a location often overlooked in our parish setting and ask ourselves, essentially, “What is the good news in this context? What could a local church do?” Across the street from this street corner is my parish, my halfway house. This is the community setting we look out onto (pictured below). Today I presented the following paper in class, not realizing how emotional I was going to feel inside until reading it aloud.

I share the paper below as a prayer and a hope….

Setting the Scene:

            The setting I chose to observe for my project is the corner of Turk and Taylor Streets in the Tenderloin. At the corner sits Club 21, a smoky, semi-rundown dive bar owned by older man named Frank. Street corner locals waft in the laissez-faire atmosphere Club 21 provides, it’s a safe haven, a gathering place, for residents and business peoples of the Turk and Taylor curb.

Some ten-twenty people (depending on the time) sit in the shade of the tall buildings along Taylor Street, in part to avoid the chill of the wind, but also because the location is out of eyesight from the police car parked along Turk Street. Locals are mostly African Americans. An elderly woman in a faded hoodie and scuffed-up jeans paces the curb, cursing to herself. She passes a younger man with a boom box and some authority in his swaggered walk, adorned in a thick gold chain, pristine white shoes, and a large man at his right hand, surveying their surroundings during a “business transaction.”

Some people on the curb have lawn chairs. Some people make do with a turned-upside, empty milk crate. Eruptions of laughter punctuate the scene. At times, the raised voices of arguments do too. The single, most obviously, homeless man tries to rest his eyes amidst business, joshing, sirens, and traffic. The occasional passersby who try to not hear, not know, and not see are taunted or easily dismissed. How can they know or see the community at the corner of Taylor and Turk Streets?

The Good News:

            When I first began applying to seminaries across the country, an admissions application asked me to describe what I believe is the biggest issue our society faces and why. After reading the question, I sat down to lunch with a friend who serves in ministry and asked what she believes is the biggest issue our society faces today.  “Worthiness,” she replied. You could provide no better case study than the corner of Turk and Taylor.

They would never name it. They would never ask someone to say it of them. Yet, ‘worthiness,’ ‘to be worthy,’ encompasses the good news at the corner of Turk and Taylor. The locals are unseen unless they control how passerby see them through a loud laugh, a yell, or simply getting in the way of foot traffic. Those that sell drugs walk about with a countenance of power. They mean something. They are valuable because someone needs them to do what they do and be who they are. Other locals talk to themselves furiously, purposefully signaling passerby to stay at a distance. As writer Parker Palmer observes about humanity, “we plunge into external activity to prove that we are worthy – or simply to evade the question.” [1] The idea that passerby might stop, might see and judge, is more hurtful than the assurance that passerby will not stop because of what they are made to see and judge by evading locals. It is more hurtful to be unseen than to be seen for the wrong reasons.

The good news at the corner of Turk and Taylor is worthiness and the ‘being known-ness’ that comes with it. I am reminded of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, a woman Jesus was supposed to not see. Society had made up its mind about this woman of many men. Furthermore, Jesus was Jewish. A man looking like him is not supposed to see a woman looking like her. Yet, Jesus stops and sees her. He somehow knows her story and he sees her. By the time we reach the end of Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman, the Samaritan woman runs into town giving voice to her witness of Jesus, a man who stopped, saw her, and afforded her a brief moment of ‘being known-ness.’ [2] Jesus exemplifies the truth that we are all worthy of being known and we are all loved by God.

On the Ground:

            Evangelism on the corner of Turk and Taylor starts with relationship. It is as simple as taking the time to stop and hear the stories of the locals for a few minutes.Or, the flip side, hear their rants for a few minutes. Do not push a topic of conversation, but simply listen. Be in the moment instead of looking towards what the ministry could mean and how long it might take to get there. Remember their names.

Do not tell people who have lived hell that God loves them and they are worthy. They will not believe you nor do they care to hear whatever reasons you offer for God about their situation. The relationship will be cut short because you stopped seeing them in their lives, and instead are trying to convince yourself of the truth of God’s love against the backdrop of Turk and Taylor. They will know of God’s love by the love you show.

Above all else, be consistent. Plan time so there is no rush. Be patient. The locals will become curious enough about you to ask where you come from and why you do what you do. When they do learn, do not invite them to church. Keep listening. Continue to be consistent. Let the walls continue to break down. They will know of God’s love by the love you show.

Someday,in a distant future, you can invite them to church and ask them how the church can best support them at the corner of Turk and Taylor. They will tell you. Let them guide how the ministry unfolds by telling you their needs. They may not give you design plans or concrete ideas, but at this point you have had practice seeing them between their words. Again, listen. And they will know of God’s love by the love you show.

Concluding Comments:

            We live in a culture that tells us we need tangible results to measure an endeavor’s success. Evangelism at the corner of Turk and Taylor is a ministry of not doing, not measuring, not counting converts. At the corner or Turk and Taylor, don’t do, stop. Listen. Wait. Be patient. Discern. Tell them the truth of God’s love that they are worthy of being known by saying absolutely nothing. Be with them in their being. Someone like you isn’t supposed to see people looking like them. Show society they are unseen no more…at the corner of Turk and Taylor.

Endnotes:

[1] Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 86.
[2] John 4: 5-39, NRSV.

Bibliography:
Palmer,Parker J. Let Your Life Speak: Listeningfor the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

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