“Night Ministry” Shines Light Into Darkness

San Francisco

By Fr. Scott Hill, OMI with Mike Viola

Prior to the United States holiday of Thanksgiving, the Feast of Christ the King; the Oblate Parish of Sacred Heart, guided by Pastor Fr. Bill Mason, O.M.I., prepared 100 lunch bags of turkey/ham sandwiches, chips, a nutrition bar, cookies and a couple of drinks for the unhoused in San Francisco.  This project is part of Night Ministry (sfnightministry.org) founded in the 1960s.

Fr. Scott Hill, OMI

This ministry, founded by the San Francisco Council of Churches, has grown in its outreach: ministering with the growing unhoused population of “The City.”  Night Ministers walk the streets of San Francisco engaging the night owls; handing out hand sanitizers and face masks during this pandemic, as well as new socks; an ongoing need of the unhoused.

The “Night Ministry” has initiated ministry to the aging LGBTQ+ community and its Clinical Pastoral Education Program is introducing a Centering Prayer opportunity along with its established Buddhist meditation for clients suffering with a variety of emotional disabilities.

The “Night Ministry” sponsors a national “Care Line” phone service, augmenting other crisis call services.  Volunteer, support counselors are available between the hours of 8:00 p.m. until 4:00 am (Pacific Time).  I supervise the 10:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. shift regularly. On Sundays and Thursdays “Night Ministry” hosts what is called “Open Cathedral,” an open-air worship service.

It was this Sunday worship, in U.N. Plaza where the 1945 U.N. Charter was signed, that a small group of the unhoused faithful gathered to sing, pray, hear from the Scriptures and receive Communion.

Sitting a safe six feet distance during the service, my mind wandered, recalling the story of the Oblates’ founder, St. Eugene De Mazenod, who visited with the fishmongers of Marseille, France and preached to the poor, acknowledging their dismal position in society.  Looking around, soaking up the scene unfolding before me, it felt right to be in their space, ever so briefly, witnessing to the intrinsic human dignity of the teaming unhoused, a dignity denied or ignored by a city of tech wealth.

I was shaken out of my reverie, brought back to reality, when it was time to hand out the 100 lunches, following the Sunday service.  At first, the handout was orderly, greeting each person and acknowledging them by name.  But as word spread, like a California wildfire, I found myself surrounded and overwhelmed, by the hoards of unhoused seeking a lunch bag.

There was no time to think, let alone greet each person. All human dignity evaporated in the moment of deprivation and survival instincts.  I was heartbroken by the overwhelming needs, that day, in the “Plaza” where world hope was born.

I continue my ministry on the call line and seek to stretch myself, reaching out the unhoused and, possibly, engaging the aging LGBTQ+ population of San Francisco.  With the support of Sacred Heart and my Oblate community I look towards deepening the Oblate charism within me.