Thank you to everyone who attended The Longest Night memorial service at Centenary United Methodist Church on December 21, which is the longest night of the year. This year, 24 people who died homeless in St. Louis were remembered during the service and candlelight vigil with “lights of hope,” as Rev. Kathleen Wilder called them.
Speakers at the service included Rev. Wilder, Rabbi Jim Goodman of Central Reform Congregation, Father Ed Murphy of St. Vincent DePaul Church, and Dr. Gary Morse of Places for People.
Below are remarks Dr. Gary Morse made during the service.
Once again, we gather to honor and remember those who have died homeless this year.
Over the prior 13 years, we have noted the deaths of 269 homeless people in St. Louis on this, the darkest day of the year, and today we will read the names of 24 more people.
This list represents far more than just more names, of course: These were all important individuals.
People who differ from us in some ways, with their own unique personalities and special lives.
And they were also people similar to us, with souls, with complexities, with struggles, with hopes and dreams. I was not privy to their private dreams, but I do know this:
Not one person grew up with aspirations of being homeless. And not a single person hoped for a life that would end by dying homeless. Death is an event that awaits each of us at the end of this life.
What happens after life is a bit of a mystery. Something that scientists and religious leaders do not consistently agree upon, and something we each must come to our personal conclusions about, whether that is based on skepticism, or faith, intuitive knowing, spiritual experience.
And while the question of life after death will continue to be debated, there are things we can know with absolute certainty:
We know these 24 individuals were our brothers and sisters in the family of the human race.
We know that each person deserves our prayers, our love, our caring remembrances.
We also know that together we can end homelessness, through housing assistance, mental health and substance abuse treatment, & supportive services.
And we know—or should know—that how each of us live in the time we have remaining matters.
Which raises the fundamental question: What really matters, anyway?
In part, that is a very personal question, but one that life asks of each us, and I ask you to reflect for a moment: What really matters to you? How do u want to live?
There are perhaps as many different answers to that question here as there are people in the room. Probably if everyone shared, though, we would hear common themes that included caring about and loving others
and being of service.
Although this question of ‘What Really Matters?’ is a personal matter, it is also a question for all of us collectively, as well as each of us individually.
What really matters—or should matter—to us as a people?
It should be about more than bumping the Dow Jones Average over the 20,000 mark, thou economic prosperity is indeed important.
That anyone has to die homeless—indeed that anyone should have to live homeless—reflects that something is terribly amiss in this, the wealthiest country in the world
Can we also focus on not just economics but on caring for all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of race or disability or income?
Even more pointedly: Can we end homelessness? Yes, we can. We have the knowledge. We have the resources in our nation. But will we?
I don’t know.
But I do know. We can—and should—choose to live our lives—individually and collectively-with compassion and love, with service and social action to ensure that no one else has to live—or die—homeless.