By Paul Ullrich, WMRC Blog Editor
A homeless man visited one of our meetings on a chilly December night. He came into the church right after I did. He was a slender man in his early thirties, with dark brown shoulder length hair and a full beard. He wasn't wearing a winter coat, but was dressed in over a half dozen sweaters and scarves. I watched him as he took most of them off and put them in a neat pile on the floor, leaving on two sweaters. One of those sweaters almost came down to his knees.
It was -20 outside. He obviously came in to warm himself up, and I certainly wasn't going to deny him that. I asked him to take off his shoes, as the church wanted to keep the wooden gym floor from being marred by wet winter boots. He nodded and smiled at me. He smiled as many homeless men do, keeping his mouth closed to hide what few deteriorating teeth he had left.
He took off his shoes and followed me into the gym. As I was the one who let him in, I kept an eye on him in case there was any trouble. But as it turned out, I didn't need to do that. He walked quietly around the gym, observing people setting up their displays and clinics.
As quiet as he was, you couldn't help but notice that he smelled bad. He reeked so badly that he parted groups of people like Moses parting the Red Sea whenever he came near. When he lifted his arm, it was enough make your eyes water.
He sat down right in front when the business meeting was called. He listened intently to the proceedings, paying more attention than most of the members. It was as if he was so starved for human contact that even something as boring as a club business meeting was somehow sustaining him.
After the business meeting, he had our usual break. That December was the first year that we had our annual Christmas hot dog dinner. A homeless man is most often a hungry man. There were people all around him eating hot dogs, and he didn't have a dime to his name to pay for one. Morgan, our president at the time, took pity and brought a him a plate brimming with food.
"Thanks, man!" He said, as he took the plate. Those were the only two words he spoke to anyone that night.
After the break, he walked about the gym, silently viewing the clinics and the displays with genuine interest. He sat down in front again for the evening presentation, never taking his eyes off the screen. When the meeting was over, he went back to the church foyer, put his many layers of sweaters back on, and left without saying a word.
As I was driving home, it suddenly hit me.
A thin man, in his early thirties.
Long, dark, shoulder length hair and a full beard.
In a church.
I din't know why I didn't see it before, but at that moment I realized that he bore a remarkable resemblance to someone whose birthday we were about to celebrate on the 25th of December.
Could it be?
But could it?
I contacted Morgan the next day. He said that after the meeting, he drove around the neighbourhood looking for the man, but he was nowhere to be found. It was if he'd vanished into thin air!
Westworth United Church, where we had our meeting, is in a suburban area of Winnipeg far from downtown. It's not on any main road, and the area is seldom, if ever, frequented the homeless.
The man who was pictured hanging on a cross in the very church we were in once said, "Whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
I hope we did all right by him.