In the first years I worked at the Ministry, Broderick lived in one of the single room occupancy dwellings (SROs) scattered about the Uptown neighborhood. For a while he was able to get along fairly well; he had a place to live, accessed food through local food pantries and seemed to have a social life. He often attended the meals local congregations served at the Ministry one Saturday each month; he played Bingo or sang songs when they were offered along with the meal.
Broderick occasionally came to my office to discuss theological matters. We usually discussed the coming of the kingdom of God; while we imagined that Kingdom differently we agreed that the world needed to change radically . . . and that love needed to be at the center. Broderick believed the Kingdom of God was at hand.
As Broderick's condition worsened, he began to isolate himself and become confrontational. \Eventually he lost his housing and ended up living on the street, sleeping in shelters. Ultimately, he became so combative even the shelters refused to allow him a place to lay his head. He often entered the Ministry's day shelter disheveled, confused and angry.
Yet Broderick continued to come. To the day shelter. To worship. To our support group. Sometimes he sat quietly and listened to what was going on around him. Other times he had something to say. When he did, we took the time and gave him the space he needed to express himself as best he could. On occasion he sat in the day shelter singing hymns at the top of his lungs; and when the power of speech was beyond his grasp and the only way he could breathe was through a straw he held between his lips, he hummed. Strongly and loudly. He hummed.
One of the last times I saw Broderick was at our annual service of lessons and carols. He sat in our chapel, unkempt, with pigeon feathers in his hair humming The Little Drummer Boy. During scripture readings, during the singing of other carols, Broderick continued to hum his song, at some moments quietly, at others at the top of his lungs. Some of our congregants were unsettled by it; eventually, I reminded him that others had to have a turn, too. But as soon as the opportunity presented itself, he took up his tune again. One thing was certain: he would not be silenced. He would not lose his voice.
Broderick's story is common among marginalized individuals. While Broderick may have literally lost his voice, those who live on the margins are constantly struggling to have a voice that is heard. I learned many things from Broderick; not the least of which was the tenacity that one must have to navigate a system that often forgets the most vulnerable among us. Yet the church has the opportunity to care for the most vulnerable by opening our hearts to people like Broderick. We can offer food for the soul and the body. We can offer a place where no one's voice is silenced, where everyone can take up their own tune . . . as we prepare the way of the Lord.
'Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.'
This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
'The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make his paths straight."'
Now John word clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist,
And his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:14)
Uptown Ministry is a program of Lutheran Child and Family Services and is affiliated with The Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.