Last Sunday, John Rich preached a sermon based on Matthew 22:1-14. In this passage, Jesus tells a parable about a king who is throwing a wedding banquet for his son. He sends servants to the invitees to tell them that the banquet is ready, but they refuse to come. Some even mistreat and kill the king’s messengers! So the king sends more servants out into the streets to gather everyone they can find, “the good as well as the bad,” and invite them into the Great Wedding Banquet. Then the king comes into the wedding hall to greet his guests, and he notices a man not wearing a wedding robe. He asks why the man is not wearing a wedding robe, but the man is speechless. The attendants “bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In his sermon, John compared the wedding banquet to Patchwork, asking: Where is God’s Wedding Banquet happening in subtle ways all around us, and we don’t even notice? Are we invited but we ignore the invitation, like the first group in Jesus’ parable?
Patchwork Central is one place where the Wedding Banquet does happen in a small way. Monday through Thursday mornings, we invite people into our building for Neighborhood Hospitality–a place to escape the elements, a place to get a free cup of coffee and pastries, a place to sit and talk with friends or strangers, a place to use a telephone, a place to take a shower, a place to feel human again.
Some people ask about our “program for poor people.” The question made two incorrect assumptions: it’s not really a program, and it’s not really for the poor. Patchwork’s hospitality is for everybody. If Mayor Winnecke were to walk in, we’d serve him a cup of coffee and let him take a shower here, the same as anyone else. Just like the king in Jesus’ parable, we invite everyone to the Patchwork Central party, almost daily. The fact that it’s mostly the poor, homeless, and mentally ill who actually answer the invitation to come to our party just proves Jesus’ parable.
Like the parable, we also have people whose attitude and behavior are inappropriate, and we sometimes need to ask them to leave. (The wedding robe the man was not wearing is symbolic of an attitude of repentance; Jesus was not advocating a dress code for God’s Wedding Banquet!) One time during Patchwork’s Hospitality time, one of our regulars who was drunk pulled out a knife and started yelling and acting threateningly toward a staff member. That is not acceptable behavior at Patchwork Central, nor, I believe, at God’s Wedding Banquet.
Patchwork staff was able to remove the man from the premises peacefully (no need to “bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness”). As the wedding robe symbolizes repentance, we at Patchwork try to make space for forgiveness and reconciliation. We set a time period of 30 days during which the man could not return to Patchwork. After his 30 days was up, he came into the office and sat down with the staff member he had threatened. He apologized and they talked for a long while. He agreed that if the staff member ever felt uncomfortable with his behavior, she could ask him to leave and he would do so, no questions asked. So we invited the man back into the party. That is what it means to be invited to God’s Wedding Banquet.
So consider yourself invited, both to God’s Great Wedding Banquet, and to Patchwork Central’s Neighborhood Hospitality. All are welcome!
Notes from 40 Years at Patchwork:
On June 6, 1990, the Washington Avenue Health Care Center opened its doors for the first time. The clinic was housed at Patchwork and was the result of several years of planning and hard work led by Alan Winslow. While Patchwork had operated several programs to help improve neighborhood access to health providers, this was the first full clinic to be in operation. It served low income, underinsured or uninsured adults who had no regular physician.
Its coordinator, Mary Rutherford, R.N., said the purpose of the clinic was to go beyond just treating medical needs. “We hope to be a holistic place. Many of our clients come to us with other needs beyond their medical problems, and we hope to help them with those needs through referrals,” Mary explained in the July 1990 Patchwork newsletter. To serve this purpose, when the clinic opened it operated with a staff member from the social service field as well as with a physician and a nurse–all of whom were volunteers.
The Washington Avenue Health Care Center was officially a separate entity from Patchwork. It moved out of Patchwork in 1997 and later merged with another clinic to become the present day ECHO Community Healthcare.