Saturday, 6 July 2013

San Fran, a city on the edge ...

Before arriving in San Francisco, I was a bit concerned that living here for a month would leave me a little bit like a fish out of water, as it's very different to visiting a place, to immerse yourself in the culture.  But I've had a lovely time, and all being told, it seems to be a city that's used to embracing strangers.

I suppose the city has a history of embracing people who had fled as far away from government authority as they could, and San Fran is as far West as they could get, without actually donning some swimming trunks.  The city has a history of picking people up, welcoming them, and including them.

Most people here are friendly, which is interesting to a cynic like me. I was originally worried that I would find people's enthusiasm and friendliness a bit much, and didn't want to be a killjoy, but that hasn't been the case, either.  It's felt perfectly natural to be responding to people's friendliness and warmth with the same.

The city's attitude to inclusion is astounding, and you can see elements of it everywhere ... in the 'LGBT Safe Zone' poster in the Mission SFPD station window, to the 'End the hate' posters in people's windows, the rainbow flags displayed in all sorts of public establishments, big brand stores and private residences, and the "Equality for all" messages displayed on the LED screens on the outside of Muni buses.  It seems to be a city that acknowledges all citizens as equals, with rights and as part of the community.

It seems even the resident's attitude to the homeless is friendly, and reciprocal. Time and again, when I've not had any change to give to a homeless person, this is met by a courteous, "Thank you, and God bless you."  The only aggression I've seen so far is in arguments between homeless people on the street, which have appeared to be alcohol-fuelled (or some other substance).

I know there is a hard edge to the city ... the degree of homelessness, the drug culture and the strong odour in certain parts gives testimony to that.  But, there's a hard edge to just about every city.  But it feels like what San Fran is doing right, is it's regard for all it's citizens, even those who would fall through the cracks, and in many cases, have already fallen through the cracks.  The challenge in what I have seen is that being friendly and welcoming, although so much better than in other cities, still leaves room for improvement.  True inclusion should extend to affirming the humanity in each person, and in giving them the opportunities for self-improvement, so that they can regain and retain a sense of pride in themselves.  This may be very well be happening, and I wouldn't want to offend anyone by suggesting that it isn't ... it's merely an observation.  I wouldn't want it to detract from the fact that I've been blown away by the level of inclusion in this city that is on the edge in more ways than one ... On the edge of the USA, on the edge of social thinking, on the edge of current policy, on the edge of both poverty and wealth, and more.

I've already made mention here of how the Church here has blown me away in terms of how active they are in seeking inclusion, and can certainly give churches in the UK a run for their money. In particular, my observations refer to the Episcopalian Church, and I've seen how they don't just operate an open-doors policy here, but they actively go out to recruit from minority groups, and then include and affirm them. The local Bishop has also been quite instrumental in fighting to get the government to repeal DOMA and to bring back Equal Marriage.  So, it was quite something to march in Pride with a group of Episcopalians who could genuinely show Pride in their ministry, themselves, and their LGBT brothers & sisters.  In my visit so far, I've visited Grace Cathedral (which there's more about in previous posts ... here, and - in particular, my impressions about their current art installation - here) and St. Gregory of Nyssa, both a vibrant ministry to the whole community, including the homeless, the LGBT community, and others (St Gregory's even hosts a weekly food pantry, which offers fresh produce and groceries to over 1,000 families). Grace Cathedral have released a public statement, rejoicing in the decision to allow Equal Marriage in California, and inviting couples to book their same-sex marriages in the Cathedral.  These are good examples of how church should defend the minorities, support equality, be a voice for the voiceless, and affirm the humanity of all!

I should add that there have been other churches ... The Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America shared in our Eucharist at Pride and have a very important ministry around issues of social justice & minority groups. There was even a group of Catholic worshippers, marching in support of Equal Marriage (although, sadly, by all accounts, this does not extend to their senior clergy or diocese, which seems to be quite active in opposing equal marriage ... here and here ).  However, it seems the call for Marriage Equality amongst Catholic worshippers is growing, and hopefully their leadership heed it sooner or later!)

I hope to attend worship at St Gregory's this Sunday, and may even stop by afterwards at a Bring & Share picnic in Dolores Park.  I've even spotted that there's an open photo shoot for the NOH8 campaign next weekend, which I'll go to and try and join in!

That's about as much as I can manage in terms of an update today.  San Francisco is turning out to be quite an exciting city to get to grips with ministry and inclusivity ... what felt like a long month in the city is rapidly turning out to be a rather short space of time to fit everything in.  I'll just have to visit regularly. ;)

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