So, my last post was before Pope Weekend, and in it I hinted at some of the things that would make the Arch Street UMC experience of Pope Weekend unique.
One of those things was the presence of Equally Blessed in our building. Equally Blessed is a coalition of Catholic groups working on behalf of LGBTQ individuals and their families. About a month before the World Meeting of Families, Equally Blessed was told they could no longer hold their parallel programming for WMF at the Catholic church they had been planning to use, so Arch Street UMC invited the group to use our building throughout the week. The hope of these LGBTQ and ally Catholics witnessing to God’s radically inclusive love lit up our church as they came and went to the convention center right next to Arch Street UMC, where the World Meeting of Families was taking place. We felt blessed by their presence, and I think the feeling was mutual, based on a comment from some of the organizers as they were heading out for the last time at the end of the week. They said that whenever they were at the convention center, in a session or environment where they felt unwelcome as LGBTQ folk or discouraged as those working for equality, they could peer down the block and see the rainbow flags on the Arch Street steeple and be strengthened and encouraged.
Something else that defined Pope Weekend at ASUMC was the impact it had on Philly’s homeless population. The extreme security measures in the middle of the city meant that many homeless folks were forced to leave the public areas where they spent their days and nights, and even if it was an area where they could be allowed back in after the security sweep, they wouldn’t be able to bring bags with them. Frustratingly, the Parkway, the area that is home to a large number of Philly’s homeless folks, was also the location of the most Pope activity and thus the heaviest security. Our church was in the thick of it all, literally right outside the security perimeter. But we were determined that Arch Street would stay open, and that those who were kicked off the Parkway would at least be able to rely on Grace Cafe, our weekly evening worship service followed by a free community dinner. There were challenges to pulling off Grace Cafe, both on Pope Weekend, and the week before. We wouldn’t be able to bring a car anywhere near the church to unload groceries once Pope Week started (frustrating since fresh vegetables are a priority), so we (not me personally, though I did get my shopping-for-200 introduction last Sunday!) had to do two weeks’ worth of shopping from a restaurant supply store that had already been picked over by Philly restaurants stocking up for the Popepocalypse. In the end, it was successful. On Pope Sunday, we worshiped with and served dinner to hundreds of guests who were happy to get away from the strange crowds and looming security fences for a little while.
Throughout the week, I kept thinking that Pope Francis seemed like the kind of guy who would slip away from his guards in disguise to visit some of Philadelphia’s homeless folks and some of Catholicism’s LGBTQ folks. Arch Street UMC would have been the perfect place for him to visit. If he did visit, he was very well-disguised, because I didn’t notice him.
By the way, let me answer the question you’re probably asking: Yes, I saw the Pope. I saw his back in the dark for about 5 seconds from 250 feet away through a dusty window after waiting for three hours. It was incredible.