On Sunday, November 2nd, 2008, All Saint's Sunday, Saint Paul's Episcopal Church held an evensong service to remember the homeless who have died. Each year we solemnly honor those we have served that have died. Many have died homeless, some have died of homelessness; others, once homeless, had moved on to housing. All are worth remembering and honoring. Each is a life lost.
This year, we remembered the following friends: William “Billy” Thomas; Kevin Beene; Donald Ray Edgemon, Jr.; Wanda Bulloch; George Anthony “Elmo” Monds; Beverly Johnson; Huey Glen Farmer; Sharon Goins; Philip Redmon; Richard Heath; Judy Bradford; Robert Turner; Edward Brandenburg; Debra Rowe; Jacqueline Gaines; Ellis Orr; LaTony Johnson; Lori; Terry Lewis; Mary Beverly Henderson; Michael Stewart; Robbie Taylor; John Henry; Sophia DeBord (child); Dana Glaze; Woody; and Those Unknown and Unnamed by us.
Brother Ron Fender, BSG wrote and recited a homily at the service. His words follow:
Solemn Evensong for the Homeless who have Died
St. Paul’s Church, November 2, 2008
Br. Ron Fender, BSG
How do we measure a life? By the counting of its days? By accomplishments or by the wealth accumulated?
This evening, we remember the homeless who have died this year. These were the people who lived on our streets, in our missions, in the hidden, secret places, out of sight and all too often, out of mind. Perhaps we passed them on the street and prayed that our eyes did not meet. Perhaps we helped them in some small way and felt better about our own lives.
This evening we commemorate the promise found in Ecclesiasticus:
“Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.
All these were honoured in their generations
And were the glory of their times.
And some there be which have no memorial;
Who are perished as though they had never been;
And are become as though they had never been born;
And their children after them.
But these were merciful men,
Whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.
Their bodies are buried in peace,
But their name liveth for evermore.”
For many of us, these names we read here tonight are deeply etched on our hearts. These were our friends, our companions in the cold, our family. These people lived in the struggle and in the humility of poverty. But, I will remember the laughter, the amazing generosity and the grace that so many of them brought into our lives – Judy Bradford’s smile, Huey Farmer’s voice, Robbie Taylor’s earnest optimism and Edward Brandenburg’s sweet gentle spirit. These people offered us so much love and goodness.
There is one name we remember tonight that is very special. Sophia DeBord was born homeless; her first home was the Community Kitchen. Her brief life was one of poverty and struggle and hardship. Her single mother worked hard. She tried desperately to find resources and to keep her family together. But, things went terribly wrong and Sophia died at the age of two. But, even in the tragedy of her death, Sophia changed the world a little. Sophia’s heart went to a one year old in St. Louis, Missouri; Sophia’s kidneys went to an adult in Johnson City, Tennessee. Sophia’s pancreas, liver and intestines went to a four year old in Ohio. All three of these recipients had been given less than 48 hours to live without these transplants. So, on the day she died, Sophia saved three lives. There are so many stories I could tell you of these we remember here tonight. But there is one thing I will tell you: these names, these people, were loved. And they will never be forgotten. And they are not homeless tonight. They are in the home of God, and it is we, dear friends, who are in the far country. But, let us now remember the living. Let us dissolve our apathy and complacency and greed and remember the living. Let us remember the words of Robert Kennedy:
“We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community. Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. But, perhaps we can remember –even if only for a time- that those who live with us are our brothers and sisters, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek- as we do-nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can. Surely this bond of faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts, brothers, sisters and countrymen once again.” Amen.