Without Porfolio


The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Luke 9:11-17

Recently I was walking down the street and a young man grabbed me and hugged me, and as he did he wept.  All he was asking was to be loved, and not be alone. Without the personal touch==we simply become robots.

Several days before I moved to San Francisco, some 22 years ago, a prominent Lesbian journalist commented: “River you are going with out a portfolio.”  In other words I was starting a ministry without backing or financial support, out of the boundaries of the norm. We have developed a “portfolio” over the years, and yet we are still “without portfolio” because we walk with people as a friend, as an equal, without expectation, we walk with them in the moment.

We walk with people in light of the body and blood of Jesus that paid a price for us, that justified us by faith, and through that justification invites us to walk with others on their journey, and simply to feed them the food they need, when they asked for it without expectation of anything in return.

That comes out of my own experience of living  on the street-being pushed too and fro-by out reach workers, and other “professionals”  with all the right answers, being told by my Church I was “intrinsically evil” and removed from ministry and shunned; those years were painful, difficult,almost destroyed me, and shaped my life.  God used them as a means for our ministry to be one of meeting people in the moment, and walking with people where they are rather than from the capitalistic cultural approach of someone who”knows” what is right. As I chose my path I allow others to

choose theirs.

Recently I heard a professional label a person they were working with as “feral”–which means they are wild and can not be tamed,  and in talking with her she commented that she can see that I have a lot of feral characteristics.  I laughed and told her that I became feral on the streets-and that the rejection by the  established church made me a wild cat-I was a tame kitten in my early adult life, but the streets made me feral, and I am damn proud to take the label. Such labeling is from a perspective of power,of knowing what one thinks is right. When one is labeled “feral”, it means they can not be helped.  So I take the label proudly for the system   has never worked for me unless I have had an equal say in working with in it. For I believe we must work with people as equals.

My experience on the streets now continue to shape my life.  I provided food and socks to fifteen people last night who have been on Polk street, homeless and into drugs since the day I first stepped on the street. Not much as changed. I see young men and women in the Haight who simply want to travel, and do not want any other life. I remember a cousin when I was ten or so who would stop by, and my mom said he was a “hobo”, he had had a job, but  chose to leave it and live without housing and wandered the South.  He died in a “hobo” camp years later.

In the last few months I have kept my distance from my housed friends, or as a friend told me I seem to have a professional stance with them.  It is my problem–all mine–but each one wants to talk about the “homeless problem”, and they all have solutions, and it is talked about from a distant approach as a problem to be fixed. One of the difficulties is that at present their are really no solutions–rent is high, there is lack of housing, increase in homelessness through out the country. The majority are mentally ill, drug addicted, without access to treatment that is not available, and that is a reality, we have to look at individuals.
I get snappy, and angry, and hate myself for weeks afterward, because I truly love them, they are the only family I know now, but my face simply goes red when we talk about homelessness as a problem–without looking at the individuals who are affected.

I am not a a distance, but on the same level, I see their faces every day. These guys are not the “homeless problem” but individuals who are in pain, who are crying, afraid, and hopeless at times.

You see I walk with these people, I live with them, I nurse them, I care for them, I bury them.  I have treated their wounds, have had their vomit on me. I have been stabbed, and shot at, have gotten malaria in my work with them.  I see and touch their humanity, and see the very face of the broken Christ.  They are not “homeless” people to me, they are the ones’ to whose care I am called, I am their friend, their pastor, their brother. 

My calling as a priest is to be their shepherd, to walk with them, to administer the Word and Sacrament through pastoral care, and feeding them.  I truly believe that if each of us  live with what we simply need, simplify our lives, and give the rest to the work of serving those with less there would be plenty for all. 

For me the best summary of my life is that my mission is found in the statement:

“obedience to Christ does not consist in engaging in the propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in a being a living mystery. It means living in such a way that one’s life does not make sense if God did not exist. To be a living mystery means to practice the works of mercy and in the words of Dorothy Day “to love to the point of folly.”

“I am a vagabond for Christ. I must go until Christ’s work is done. I go like the wind.” Kawaga

Each of us is simply asked to give a cup of cold water, each of us does the best that we can.

Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

Temenos Catholic Worker

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164



Fr. River Damien Sims, D.S.T., D.Min. candidate, John Knox Seminary

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