Gathering on “The Front Porch”

As a little girl growing up in North Star, Ohio, I remember sitting on our front porch and waving to all the people who passed by on Route 127! Being farmers, we would run to our porch swing on a rainy day and watch the rain watering our fields. On weekends and evenings, neighbors would gather on our porch to tell stories and have some ice cream and warm pie that Mother just baked.

Last week when the temperatures reached almost 50 degrees here in Chicago, I sat with one of our mothers on her porch as she told of her granddaughter’s murder and the pain of going to the court hearings month after month and rehearing the horror of the night. She cries, “Will the pain ever leave; will I ever find healing?”

I leave her porch thinking of the differences in our porch conversations.

Today on 51st Street here in the Back of the Yards in Chicago, the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation has opened a “front porch” — a warm, open space for neighbors, staff and participants to gather, share stories, connect and be fed physically and spiritually, to heal pain and celebrate friendship.

After more than five years of vacancy, many were waiting with great expectation for those doors to open … neighbors were stopping and asking, “Is this going to be a church, an art center?” “Will you be selling liquor?”

Then on November 8, the doors did open, and we celebrated the birthing of the radical transformation of a former grocery and liquor store into a no-steps, two-room gathering place to lift spirits, not sell them!

The place hosts circles of all kinds — mothers’ healing circles, youth circles, restorative justice leadership circles, support circles for men and women returning from prison, staff circles, drumming circles, community Mass circles, planning circles — all for the purpose of healing harm and building relationships.

While precious blood continues to pour out on the streets we walk and the porches on which we stand, we invite the community into a safe place, a comfortable corner to share with others their suffering, their confusion and their hopes — and know that they are not alone.

Every day I’m at the “front porch” someone new stops by: someone in need of healing, longing for a place of peace, a mother with two young children asking for prayer, a young father walking home from work … young, old, rich, poor, neighbors curious to see if this is a place for them. “Need some water, coffee, chips, some cookies, a hug? Come inside. You are welcome here!”

For those who saw the chaos and smelled the stench when the doors first opened in late July, the transformation has been amazing. Rats had their way, and quickly learned that they had lost their home! Neighbors, funders, board members, attorneys, friends of PBMR have been welcomed into this new creation and they stand with mouths open in amazement — sometimes even to the point of tears.

Mothers were especially excited as they could not believe there was such a place in their community — a place to find peace, to experience a “Spa Love Day,” a place where pain and disappointments can be shared, where reconciliation can happen among women, men and youth; a place to drum out frustrations and clear one’s brain!

Summer will offer all kinds of activities and “front porch” experiences as we set up easels outside and the community comes together to paint and chat, to barbeque and know they are safe to come off their porches and get to know their neighbors and the community in a new way!

PBMR continues to hear the voices of the community and respond as best we can to that call — it is the call of our spirituality — to build a community where all are welcome; all are seen as IN the circle; where all are offered radical hospitality, hope and healing; where those who feel “far off” will be brought onto the “front porch” through the Blood of Christ.

We invite all of you to come, especially this summer, sit on the “front porch” to see and engage in our building a community of love.

— Story by Sister Donna Liette, Family Forward program coordinator at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation. Originally published by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in The New Wine Press. Used with permission.

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