Two “Living on the Street” Tours

Cranford & Fred at the Love Park
Cranford & Fred at the Love Park

Narberth Presbyterian Church put out an invitation to join The King’s Jubilee on a tour of center city Philadelphia from the perspective of surviving on the street homeless. They had such a response that we had to divide it into two tours. We like to have no more than 20 people on a tour, so we can cross streets together and everyone can hear. Fred Benjamin and I led the first tour on October 16. There were twenty of us altogether on that tour, as there were some last minute cancellations from Narberth and some last minute participants from St. Philip Orthodox Church. Everyone brought sandwiches to give away. We also had power packs and bottled water. It was basically the same tour as the “Walkabout” we did last spring, with the addition of a visit to a compact home set up in a dumpster and a side trip at the end into the Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul. Fred shared stories of the resourcefulness of those living on the street, along with some desperate measures taken when there was no one who came out to feed them. I shared the history and philosophy of The King’s Jubilee, along with suggestions of ways they could join us in the ministry.

Group shot on 10/16/2010 in front of "the bat cave" guest quarters
Group shot on 10/16/2010 in front of "the bat cave" guest quarters

On November 20, I was in the hospital for the third time, so Father Noah Bushelli went in my stead to help lead and share an Orthodox perspective on ministry among the poor. There were 47 on the tour that day. Fr. told me that, even so, everyone crossed the streets safely and could hear fairly well, although the tour took an hour longer than anticipated.

We feel these tours have helped people to understand homeless people as people first and we hope they will give rise to more and creative ways to reach out and help solve this terrible symptom of the disconnectedness of our time. We plan to do more of these, including one in the dead of winter. Hopefully future tours will include pilgrimages to Orthodox Churches in the city for prayer and to encourage and strengthen the witness of those Orthodox who are living on the front lines.

It’s Personal.

Alex the Albanian

On Saturday, I had a lesson that I have been trying to teach volunteers for over 25 years hammered home to me more forcibly than ever before in my life.

The basic lesson is this: that all ministry is personal. Numbers of meals served, blankets given away, hats distributed; these are just so many things. One of many lessons that Jesus spoke concerning the kingdom of God has always informed my point of view on this: “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:20-21] The “you” is plural so this could be translated “the kingdom of God is among (or between) you.” The point is that the kingdom of God is not some event or happening or place that you can be the first of your friends to discover. It is not a social or political movement or worldly empire, although it can and will shake all of these to their foundations.

The kingdom of God is among us. We experience the kingdom of God whenever we recognize a unique reflection of the glory of God in another person or it is so recognized in us by another. It can come as a fleeting flash of insight or last a lifetime of mutual care and forgiveness. It is what knits us together as brothers and sisters, knits our marriages together, ends our loneliness. This is personal, not institutional. This is messy and unpredictable. This cannot be programmed in or out. God will not be confined to our box.

We are called to be disciples. If we practice the disciplines of prayer and regular Communion, and add fasting and almsgiving, we work with God to create fertile conditions to experience the kingdom of God more and more in our dealings in this world. Since 1985, when I became a prison chaplain, I tried to encourage all of our volunteers to be open to be personally involved, even when that was contrary to the institutions’ policies. I was always willing to lose a volunteer from a program for them to become a friend to an inmate. All ministry is personal.

Every person we meet uniquely reflects something of the image of God. God sees something lovable and worth dying for in each and every person we meet. I instruct all of our volunteers to pray something like this: Lord, with each person I meet today, show me what it is about them that you love. I always follow up with the warning: Be prepared to have your heart broken when He starts to answer this prayer.

On Saturday, November 20, Alexander Bejliri, known on the street as “the Russian”, visited me at Grand View Hospital. You may have heard me refer to Alex the Albanian. This is he. I think Alex and I have known each other for almost 25 years. Alex has been homeless or in various SRO’s all of these years. He works as a dishwasher or odd jobs. He always gathers up the leftover used clothing to ship it back to his family in Albania. Through the years, whenever I have been sick and had to miss going down to the street, he would call me at home to check in on me. With this illness, he was beside himself with concern for me, not being able to imagine what could have happened to me to keep me away for so long.

During my second hospitalization, he called me repeatedly to try to figure out how to visit me. I told him the name of the hospital and that it is in Sellersville, but there is not public transportation from Philadelphia to it. I asked him to pray for me. He told me that he went to Ss. Peter and Paul (R.C. Basilica) and prayed for me every day. He insisted that he needed to visit me in person. I thanked him for his prayers and said I would be discharged shortly. When I was hospitalized the third time, I ended up in ICU with my cellphone turned off and no non-family phone calls forwarded to my room. As soon as he discovered I was out of ICU and could receive visitors, he determined to make the trek. He took the SEPTA train to Lansdale; then took the bus to the end of the line at Landis’ Supermarket in Telford. Then he walked five and a half miles to the hospital. Still, he did not sit down during his visit. He was amazed that I had a walker and needed to use it.

Even after all Alex had gone through to visit me, he was amazed that none of the homeless guys had visited me. He thought nothing of his sacrifice and care to visit me, but treated it only as what should be expected of a friend. He shook his head that I should be brought low like this after serving the poor for 25 years. I tried to assure him that God was using it for good. Since I was laid up, more people were getting involved in the ministry and taking on more responsibility. He said something that blew me away: “Others come and then don’t come. For 25 years you come and you serve the poor peoples. You come in the rain and in the snow and when the sun shines. We look for your face, your face, your face! We look for your face.”

The kingdom of God is among us.

It’s personal.

Harry F. Mason – Memory Eternal!

On Sunday, September 19, I was out of voice and feeling a bit restless. I wandered out of Matins and down to the great room for no good reason. Just then Harry Mason was being assisted into the building by his neighbor lady, who called out, “Where is your wheelchair?” I scampered around to find it. I was one of the few who knew for sure we had one, since I had brought it to the church when the McGraws had no further need of it. It was in the youth room. We helped Harry get into it and wheeled him into Matins.

Harry had stopped eating days before. He was on his death bed. Yet he made this effort to be where his heart was. Mark Smerkanich wheeled him forward when it was time for him to commune. Fr. Noah thought he left right after communing, but Harry stayed through announcements. We had to catch Father’s attention when he was making announcements, as we felt sure he was going to tell us to pray for Harry to have a good death. It would be embarrassing for us, but not for Harry at that point. Harry knew the score. This was his last opportunity to commune at St. Philip, a place he loved. He stayed for coffee hour, before his neighbor came to take him back home. He passed away early the following Saturday morning.

A few weeks later, after I had been in the hospital for almost a week and released, I was in terrible pain and sick, but I thought of Harry and went to church. If I’m going to be miserable; what better place to be than in such a place of healing?

Harry was a faithful financial and prayer supporter of this ministry, a good friend and a good example to the end. We will miss him. May his memory be eternal!

Point Man for December 9: Cranford Joseph Coulter

I’m feeling a little stronger each day. It is still with some trepidation that I make this announcement. My PICC line is scheduled to be removed on St. Nicholas Day. Barring any further complications or reactions, I should be fit to return to the street on December 9.

I will make the soup. I will need someone to come to my house by 6:15 to help load the TKJ-mobile, as I still will be on lifting restrictions. It would be great if that person could either drive or ride shotgun.

Please pray that all continues to go well.

Thank you.

‘Tis the Season!

On December 2nd, we will be commemorating St. Nicholas on the street. Once a year, we try to give each person we serve, three one dollar coins in honor of St. Nicholas in Jesus’ Name. We plan to give out $360 that night. This is all we have in our account at this time. So, if you want to participate in this, it would be greatly appreciated. You may use the Donation Page link found on the “Contact Us” page to make a secure, on-line donation with your Visa, MasterCard, Discover or Amex card. We especially commemorate St. Nicholas because he is a great Orthodox Saint, and he used his inheritance (represented by the three coins) to redeem three sisters from lives of oppression and defilement due to the poverty of their family.

We would like to be able to give out homemade cookies on December 23. If you like to make more cookies than you should eat, you can bake to your heart’s content, then give the extras away to bring a touch of home to the guys on the street, this Christmas. It’s even nicer if your children or grandchildren color paper lunch bags with Christmas decorations to pack a few cookies in, for us to hand out. If you want to join us to give them away yourself, it’s even better. Just call or email me, so we can coordinate.

May God bless you as you remember the poor this Christmas.

December 16th: Holy Annunciation

On December 16th, Holy Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Elkins Park, PA, will be providing the meal on the street.  Any are welcome to join us. But please contact Presvytera Joanna (email: / phone: 717-840-9170) or me (email: / phone: 267-497-0267) to let us know your plans, so we can do things in an orderly fashion.

The youth of their community are collecting wash clothes, blankets, soap… to make a small care package that they perhaps will come down in January to hand out.

Update on Cranford Joseph

Cranford has moved back out of ICU to a regular room.  The infection that put him in the hospital in the first place is on the run.  It appears the doctors have found an antibiotic or combination that is working on the infection without causing other problems.

The allergic reaction that sent him to the hospital on Sunday is still causing him discomfort, but is better today than yesterday.  (It’s like a bad sunburn on every inch of his body.)

Your prayers for his continued recovery are appreciated.  Cranford sends his thanks and appreciation for your prayers, and is grateful to see that things are still moving forward with The King’s Jubilee.

The King’s Jubilee from St. Gregory of Nyssa

Icon by the hand of Nick Papas, available from

“All things belong to God, who is our Father and the Father of all things. We are all of the same family; all of us are brothers. Amongst brothers, it is best that all inherit equal portions.”

– St. Gregory of Nyssa, 4th century

Point Men Needed for December 2 & 9

We praise God for the wonderful response of people stepping up to take on additional responsibilities during my illness and recuperation. The first one to volunteer to be a point man was someone who had never before been to the street with us. That took some guts!

We still need to fill two more spots: December 2nd and December 9th.

The point man does not have to prepare all of the food. He or she needs to try to coordinate to make sure the food and volunteers are going to be there. Volunteers are to check this blog for contact information and the list of needs and coordinate with the point man for that night.

The basic list of what is needed for each night is:

  • 20 to 25 quarts of hearty soup (We have turkeys to use for this.)
  • a gross of hard-boiled eggs
  • a large kettle of pasta with tomato and meat sauce (We have pasta and tomato sauce)
  • 8 gallons of drink, either iced tea or hot chocolate (or some of each)
  • at least 300 hot/cold paper cups (We do not use styrofoam. We are just blocks from a river that leads directly to the ocean)
  • a large bottle of Franks’ Red Hot sauce
  • fruit, anything but apples. People don’t have good teeth. We can generally only give away one bag of apples.
  • 100s of sandwiches. These should be made the way you like them (only no mayonaisse or eggs) and packed in sandwich baggies, then stacked back into the bread loaf bags. Please write with heavy marker on the bag what kind of sandwiches they are.
  • Pastries or some kind of goodies
  • ladle
  • forks, spoons, napkins
  • music and Altoids for the trip

We have funds to pay for some of these things. It is a matter of people actually gathering them and getting them to 1801 Vine St. at 8pm on Thursday night.

The point man will be respected as the person in charge on site to provide for order and security while serving and to make sure the park is cleaned up before leaving.

On December 2nd, there is the added dimension of our observance of St. Nicholas Day on the street. We try to give each one we serve 3 one dollar coins in the Jesus’ Name to honor of St. Nicholas. This is great fun, and I will be so sorry to miss that this year. It is good if everyone on the team serving that night reviews the story of St. Nicholas, so they are prepared to share it with any who ask.