Earlier this week I did something I rarely do. I visited the BIG CITY – in this case, Philadelphia.
Big cities spook me a bit. WAY too many people. Lots of noise. Lots of smells, some good (think food,) some not so much (think exhaust.) Lots of traffic, most of it SLOW. I’ll never complain about Amish buggies again.
I was accompanying my daughter Alison for an appointment right in the heart of the city. As I’ve told her many times, I live in the country for a REASON.
Still, it was an insightful and educational trip. Within easy walking distance we took in the famous Reading Terminal Market, the terrific large indoor market open all year long. The smells of fresh baked items, delightful beverages, tasty treats, scrumptious meats and MUCH more brought back memories of younger days of similar markets in my home area of York.
The only disappointment – a Philly soft pretzel cost me $2.50. When I was young it cost 35 cents. Not my kind of progress.
We walked a few blocks in a light rain to check out a brand new museum dedicated to the American Revolution. Only open a few weeks, the eager young museum workers were happy to answer every question and show every historical trinket of their new treasure.
The highlight item at the museum was General George Washington’s actual war tent which has somehow lasted nearly 250 years. Washington was famous for living in the field with his troops, not at the local inn or someone’s home. The linen tent has somehow made it through the ages and is now well taken care of.
A walk up the street led to Independence Hall, where our great nation essentially began. Snagging some tickets to the final tour of the day we stood in the actual room where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed. History was made – twice – in that room.
You could feel the history there. Many of the items and architecture of the room were the original materials such as the chair where Washington served as the leader of the Constitutional convention. What I wouldn’t have given to sit in that chair.
We checked out a couple of the MANY restaurants of central Philly, some with their own custom brews which is the trend these days. The city has many tastes and far more than just the traditional Philly cheesesteak.
Thanks to the generosity of a college friend of Alison’s we were able to stay at an apartment just off the University of Pennsylvania campus. But this wasn’t State College, this was Philadelphia. Apartment houses on top of each other. A long winding staircase up to a small third floor flat.
We took the time to walk the neighborhood, ever vibrant even with the Penn spring semester concluded. A local bar and grill was filled to the corners with chattering patrons as we enjoyed some tasty eats and a cold one.
Those were the highlights. But this was a major American city – and we also saw the other side of life there.
When leaving the apartment in the morning I was mystified at the trash just strewn on the sidewalk. Why couldn’t the residents there bag their garbage like folks elsewhere?
Later I saw the reason – poor people openly going through other people’s trash looking for anything of value. One man was apparently a veteran of this and didn’t much care if he was being observed. When he was done the leftovers were a mess all over the place.
We saw many homeless people wandering through central Philadelphia. A Methodist church downtown served as a sanctuary for some of these people. Or at least the steps outside their large entry doors were the sanctuary as people were wrapped up in blankets lying on the steps next to the sidewalk.
One man erected a cardboard barricade at one church entrance. It made me wonder what happens Sunday morning when parishioners arrive and it’s time for services.
During our walk downtown we were approached by several people asking for a handout. I respectfully shook my head and waved them a No. That has stuck with me for several days now.
It was a curious juxtaposition in the middle of the big city – well-groomed business people in suits and skirts strolling next to people in virtual rags who probably haven’t bathed in a while.
The well-known story of the Good Samaritan has rolled through my head this week. Emulating the third traveler that day, the Samaritan who helped the beaten man at the side of the road, is far more difficult than we can imagine.
Was I more like the first two travelers in the story, the ones who passed by? That was easy. Reaching out to our fellow citizens in need – that takes some courage.
But it’s what Jesus would have done, and did do countless times in his three year ministry.
As our Grace Church looks to the future we still grapple with the idea of “what is it we should be doing?” We can just show up for Sunday services, put money in the offering plate and enjoy some occasional cookouts with fellow church members. That’s easy.
But what should we REALLY be doing? There aren’t nearly as many homeless people in our neighborhood as in Philadelphia – but they’re here. There aren’t nearly as many people looking for help in our valleys as in the big city – but they’re here.
Let us continue to search for the answer to that question “what is it we should be doing?” The answers will come as long as we continue the search. Churches die when that search ends.
Please join us for those Sunday services this weekend – yes, they’re always important. Our new prayer service begins at 8:30 AM – bring a friend or just bring your prayer requests for this brief but important service.
Sunday School begins around 9:30 – only two more weeks remain before we break for our summer schedule. We’ll have the beverages for you – you bring the desire to question and learn more about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The kids will have their Sunday activities as well – again, maybe have them bring a friend to share the fun.
Worship begins at 10:45 on this Memorial Day weekend. Let us never forget those who sacrificed all to earn and keep the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.