Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tommy Parker 1947-2008

Soon after I arrived at St. Paul's this summer, I met one of the regulars who lives at the church -- Tommy Parker. He was what most of us call "homeless," but his home was on our church steps. When it rained, Tommy slept under the big colonnade, and in the daytime he snoozed on the bench in front of the church. He always greeted me with a smile and wave, and he was endlessly cheerful. He touched the life of everyone who works in this church.

Tommy died in a hotel room a couple of weeks ago.

This morning we held a memorial service for Tommy, and we invited people from the streets, the university and the church. Some 75 souls came to lay Tommy to rest, and they shared many words and many memories. Some people dressed well, others not. Some were sober, some were not. All were full of grace and expressed their respect for each other and for Tommy.

We heard how Tommy helped  university students hand out ice cream to children. "He took so much joy in being able to give something to others," came one memory. "I remember Tommy with a big smile and ice cream streaming down his face."

Jeffrey, who lives on the street, told us, "The best thing about the man was his smile, his laugh. That smile is right here with us."

Eric Kelley, who took the photo of Tommy on this page, told us how Tommy opened a world to him on the streets of Charlottesville, and how he made many friends among the homeless thanks to Tommy.

And Adrian, who sometimes sleeps on our steps, told us "Tommy taught me generosity and hope in the face of adversity. Drunk or sober I felt his love."

We said prayers, we heard Scripture, we sang Amazing Grace. Tommy is smiling upon us, I am certain, and he is in a place where he no longer feels hurt or pain.

And I am honored that my first memorial service at St. Paul's was for Tommy Parker (1947-2008) who slept on our church steps and greeted us with his smile.


Janice said...

This is an incredibly powerful post. Why did only the St. Paul's employees know Tommy? I've been attending St. Paul's regularly, either at the evening or morning service for three years, and I don't even recognize his face. I'm ashamed to say it. What can we do to bring these people into our parish community? What can we do to give these people faces? How can we learn to interact with them, offering respect, dignity, and help instead of uncomfortably turning our eyes the other way?

Robert Christian said...

I visit Philly often. I stopped at for Saturday morning mass at my favorite Anglo-Catholic Church. They had just served 200 people at their soup kitchen that morning. The priest told how many of the people on the street are mentally ill. He encourage everyone to come on a Saturday morning and just be with these souls. He related how often he would see the face of God in their faces (and I'm doing a terrible job of telling this). I teach special education and I know that some of my students will one day be homeless. The services just aren't there. It's something society closes it's eyes to or says "it's they're own fault." That's a mind set we have to change. There but by the grace of God go I !

I remember a sermon from the vicar at Trinity Wallstreet where she talked about people dying alone and that no one should die alone. There's a lot of work to be done.

Good to know Tommy had people who cared about him and saw the person. Wonderful story.

Pam said...

Tommy will be missed and the most wonderful memorial we can offer is to continue to challenge ourselves to be more welcoming to everyone. Thank you Jim for joining us on this journey.