Christ Church Schenectady Prayer Table report June 27, 9:15-10:30AM Jake Dell, Torre Bissell and Don Foust
+–indicates received wooden cross made by Dennis Adams of North Carolina.
+Travis — young man — asked prayers for his girlfriend Ashley. She was “in a terrible car crash.”
+George — man — “I just came from Florida. I need a place to stay.”
Linda — a regular — prayed for protection and provision for family and friends. I gave her the New Testament that I received at the Diocesan Convention (Bishop Bill asked us to pass them on to others).
+Joanna — woman — When we asked her what she wanted prayer for she said she wanted to “just give thanks.”
Kayla — young woman who was gang raped last year and wears her hair cut short like a boy (I suspect as a defensive measure) — we prayed for her brother Joshua who is in the county jail and for her baby son Nasir.
+Fernando — rushing by to work
(man rushing by to work)
+Nino — Hispanic guy on bike
+(Young Hispanic woman)
+Mandy — mother and her baby Jacob. We prayed for protection and provision.
+Robert — man — wanted prayer for his girlfriend Sarah. They have at least one child. Robert has been out of work for six months and doesn’t feel free to marry Sarah because he can’t provide for her. We told him, “God is the provider, not you.” We urged him to talk and pray with Sarah about getting married.
Eddiberto and Lucinada — Hispanic couple — We prayed for protection and provision.
Kayla came back with Nasir (her baby in a stroller) and we prayed for Nasir. When she goes to visit her brother Josh in the county jail tomorrow we asked her to carry our greetings (Josh has come to the prayer table before).
+Pedro — young Hispanic man — he crossed the street for prayer and had a big, beaming smile.
+Gary — “I’ll probably come to the [Neighborhood] Meal tomorrow.
———— I thought you would be interested in Jake Dell’s notes on the prayer table. Jake is a new member of Christ Church Schenectady and lives in New York City. He is an applicant for Holy Orders in this diocese.
Prostitution, drugs, and prayer: essential services for the suburbs
I just returned from working the prayer table at Christ Church, Schenectady. The Lake Shore Limited was an hour and half late last night because they put the train together wrong in Sunnyside yard. Apparently when the locomotive pulled away, all the cars uncoupled.
Fortunately, setting up a prayer table is a good deal simpler. I arrived at the church at 9 o’clock with Torre Bissell and we set up a simple 4 x 4 black folding table with five black chairs.
“Put it here,” Torre said, pointing to the crack in the sidewalk that must have been the property line.
“That way no one can say we’re on the sidewalk. And point chairs this way, facing out. That way people don’t feel trapped.”
And that was it. A laminated sign which read “Prayer Table” flapped from the front. Torre pulled out a pen and paper and jotted down my name and his and today’s date. Then pulled out a bag of wooden crosses and laid out a few along with a thin paperback English Standard Version New Testament.
“Good morning!” He called to a man walking across the street, “Can we pray for you?”
The man waved and walked on. Christ Church is on State Street in what is referred to as The Hill. In any city I’ve lived, The Hill is never a nice neighborhood and Hamilton Hill is no different.
“The Hill provides two essential services to the suburbs,” Torre told me later over lunch, “prostitution and drugs.”
Another man approached.
“Good morning! What do you need us to pray for?” Torre called.
There really isn’t any way out of that one. It’s direct and not a yes or no question. And who doesn’t have something weighing on his or her mind?
“Um, yeah,” the man said as he sat down.
“What’s your name?” Torre asked.
“T –.” he replied.
“T –, what can we pray for?”
“Um, my girlfriend’s been in a terrible car crash. And I’m kind of dealing with that.”
We prayed for T — and his girlfriend A– He thanked us and left. Torre made a note of the encounter.
Then G — approached. You could smell the alcohol.
“I just came from Florida, and I need a place to stay.”
We joined hands. And we just did it too, no asking “May I touch you?” the fear of insurance and liability bound momentarily while the Spirit moved.
“Lord, we pray for G — that he will find a place …”
“M — my friend M — is supposed to help me. I am supposed to call him.”
“We pray, Lord that you would open that door for G — or if that is not the right path for him show him the place to which he is to go.”
G — thanked us and got up and left. We gave him a wooden cross necklace.
Then J — and L — and J — came. Passersby each of them. Several of them needed jobs. One just wanted to “give thanks.” Each got a cross.
K — came. She’s been before. Gang-raped last year she’s shaved her head to look like a boy. (Lord, I pray you would restore that sense of her beauty you gave to her as a woman.) Her brother is in prison.
“I’m seeing him tomorrow. He may get out next month!” She smiled.
“Lord we pray for K — and her brother. You have all things in mind for them, lead them.”
Torre looked at his notes and counted, then checked his watch.
“Not bad he remarked.”
This is the Episcopal Church.
R — stopped by.
“R — what can we pray for?”
“Um, my girlfriend and I aren’t on the same page. And I’m out of work six months now and that kind of messes up my attitude.”
“We come to you in prayer, Lord and we give R — and his job and his relationship to you,” Torre prayed.
R — took his Yankees cap off as we prayed. He wore a customized Yankee tee shirt with a digital print of himself holding a young boy.
“Is that your son?”
“Yeah, that’s one of my kids.”
“R — have you accepted Jesus into your life?”
“Yeah, I did a long time ago when I was young …”
“Lord, we pray that you would lead R — back to you as you once led him to you in the beginning.”
Torre interrupts to pray. Conversations with him are punctuated by a different grammar.
But life is always being interrupted, and why let the devil have all the interruptions?
“How long have you been with your girlfriend?” Torre was back on point.
“Oh, for a long time, about six years,” R — answered.
“And have you thought about marriage?”
“And you both want that?”
“Yes. But I am not … it’s … my financial situation. I am not used to that. As the man I should be providin’ and I can’t right now.”
Torre nodded his head and reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a diary. He opened to the back page and showed R — a picture of the Bissell family. There are at least 30 people in the picture: Black, white, and Asian faces flank Torre and his wife Jean.
“This is my wife,” Torre pointed.
“When we arrived back from Africa,” (Torre and Jean had been overseas missionaries) “we had no money. But we had family.
“What I want to say to you, R –, is that God doesn’t want you to live this way. We all want to be comfortable and have nice things, but think about it. Think about making this woman your wife.”
I braced thinking R — might think he was being judged. I expected a defense or a come back. Instead he rose thoughtfully with a much different look on his face than I would have had. There didn’t seem to be any shame or embarrassment. If anything I thought I saw a bit of relief. As if he had been given permission to do something he’s really wanted to do for a long time.
More regulars came and went. The prayer table is located near a bus stop and box-store clerks and other service industry workers stream by. A pretty young Hispanic woman, two younger girls, and their grandmother walked by. I don’t think she spoke English, but Torre held the woman’s hand, prayed for her, and gave her a cross. Fifteen minutes later passed by again and smiled. She was wearing the cross.
This is Schenectady.
A woman passed by pushing a baby. He smiled sweetly as we prayed over his mother, M –.
Two boys rode by on bicycles laden with cans.
“There is a can redemption center up the street, but I like to think of Christ’s Church as the redemption center,” Torre joked.
The one who had been gang-raped passed by again, this time pushing a baby.
“Is that her brother?” I asked.
“It’s her son.”
“How old is K –?”
K –‘s baby boy looked at us apprehensively. Unlike M — ‘s baby, no trusting smile appeared.
“He doesn’t know you,” K — explained matter-of-factly.
But he knows the darkness.
(Lord, let there be light.)
A minute later a minivan drove up. A man and his son sat in the front seats. Torre smiled. The driver’s side door opened and the man got out and ran over to us.
“Here you are, gentlemen – for your efforts,” he said, as he handed us a piece of paper.
It was a check for $500 made out to Christ Church.
Money follows ministry.
(Let the church understand.)
Torre was quick to explain that the prayer table does not accept offerings or donations. But this man had had a life-changing experience at Christ Church many years ago and occasionally drives all the way down to The Hill to deliver his support.
“10:30” Torre said, glancing at his watch, “Time to pack it up.” And within two minutes, we struck the setting of our low-tech ministry and drove off.
State Street turned from vacant store fronts to houses and finally to the bull-dozed earth cuts of new development. We turned into Barnes and Noble just adjacent to the Panera in one of those new upscale brick-and-stucco shopping centers that dot the landscape from Milwaukee to Birmingham.
We were back in Nice America.
Inside the superstore a mural depicting Faulkner, Rimbaud, Wilder, Waugh, Eliot, Joyce, and countless other literati posing in a Parisian night café created an ersatz sophistication while the product of the New York machine we work so hard to keep going kept redirecting my gaze.
Everyone was beautiful again.
June 27, 2009