When we first got started as Circle of Hope at Tenth and Locust I was determined to stay under the radar of the Philadelphia authorities until we were established. I did not expect them to understand us, much less love us, and I have been generally right about them.
So I was pretty horrified when I showed up late for a concert one night and about six police cars were flashing outside our door! So much for staying under the radar. I think it got too hot in the mosh pit so they opened up all the windows and welcomed the neighbors to enjoy the music. One of the higher up, white-shirt policemen was about ready to go upstairs so I asked him what was going on.
He said, “Who are you?”
I said, “I’m the pastor and this is our church.”
He took a brief look at the building and at me and said, “Like hell you’re a pastor.”
I had to take him upstairs to my office and show him my array of Bibles to convince him that we were, indeed, some distant version of the species called church.
What I did not know then was that we had an irascible neighbor who knew this police officer in the white shirt from way back when they were kids in Kensington. The old man had lived for many years on the third floor next door to an empty space. Our beloved realtor talked a client into renting this empty space to us. We had punk concerts that, admittedly, made about a thousand times more noise than the neighbor had ever experienced. He did not like worship either. It vibrated the paintings on his wall.
Our neighbor called the police every Sunday. I got in the habit of waiting for the officers on the stairs. I invited them to join us.
We finally discovered somehow that we had this enemy next door with nothing to do but torment us. What we did not know then was that his health was deteriorating and he was often alone in his apartment feeling lonely, sick and scared.
We ended up prosecuted in the Court of Common Pleas and convicted by an aggressive assistant D.A. who told the judge she needed to “put the hammer down” on the church or we would never comply. We had a potential fine of $5000 for future infractions of the sound ordinance. We built a sound barrier wall. The city’s sound people came out with their equipment during worship to measure whether the wall solved the problem. They said it did. To be honest, the testers told me they thought our whole situation was dumb. You could sneeze loudly and violate the sound ordinance — besides, it was designed for convertibles with loud radios on South St., not churches. I’m not sure we could have failed with these guys running the test, but we passed.
Back to the neighbor
It has been so long ago now, that someone may have to fill in the details. I remember not long after sitting in court I was sitting in the neighbor’s living room hearing about his back condition and his military service. Then I climbed out his kitchen window onto his roof to fix a drainage problem.
I remember telling people it was rare to get a bonafide enemy to love. People started to take him food periodically and others made a better relationship than I did. I never heard about him pouring hot water out of his window onto people on the sidewalk again. He never poured glue in our locks again. We started missing the weirdness of having the police show up for worship.
Last week during the PM Gwen did a fine job of personalizing the gospel to a man who was a bit drunk and letting his anger get the best of him during talk back. Some elementary kids squeezed in closer to their mothers when he shouted threatening things. Maybe we won’t see a couple of the newcomers again. But someone came up to me afterwards and said, “It was just like the old days!” I hope they meant that we had a good chance to love our enemies, not just talk about how we ought to.