Texas pastor embraces arrest warrant for ministry to homeless

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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Lorenza Andrade-Smith isn’t an ordinary Methodist pastor. For the past year, she has been appointed to minister to the homeless — and as a result faces a warrant for her arrest.

Last year, Andrade-Smith convinced her United Methodist Church bishop to appoint her, as “an experiment,” to minister to the homeless. “My bishop really took a risk,” she said.

As part of her three-year assignment, Andrade-Smith sold her possessions, rejected her health insurance and pension benefits, and committed herself to living among the homeless and others on the margins of society.

On Aug. 3, 2011, she was cited for sleeping on a bench near the Alamo in San Antonio. The night before, she went to the Haven for Hope homeless shelter, where she had been sleeping.

The sprawling Haven for Hope complex hosts around 1,600 people a night, according to the shelter’s website.

Andrade-Smith had just received some press coverage, which noted that she traveled with a chalice and serving platter. Workers at the shelter “said I had to get rid of that” after the story ran, she said, “but of course I wasn’t going to do that.”

At around ten o’clock the next morning, she was confronted by a police officer. “I apparently overslept,” she said. “The police officer suggested that I go to the haven, and gave me the ticket,” she recalled.

“I had to go see the judge, and I did that. The judge ordered me to perform community service.”

In an ironic twist, the judge ordered her to perform ten hours of community service at the very same shelter she had been staying at.

She refused to comply with the judge’s order.

“It was this criminalization of those who are poor that I was trying to protest,” she said, explaining, “all I do is community service.”

As a result, a warrant was issued for her arrest.

“I turned myself in, and went to jail,” she said. “After a few hours, I was told to leave, and that I was going to be fined.

“I actually don’t have money to pay the fine, of course, so there’s already another warrant out.”

So, Andrade-Smith said, “I need to go back and turn myself in. I’m intentional about going through the process to see what homeless people go through.”

“My concern is not my arrest,” she said, “it’s with the indifference about people who are poor and living on the streets. There’s a whole new landscape with people living on the streets in the United States,” she observed, noting that the economic recession had plunged some middle class families into poverty.

Andrade-Smith keeps a full calendar, she said. The primary concern that she has about her legal saga is having to cancel some commitments.

Before she turns herself in for a second time, Andrade-Smith plans to travel to Arizona to take part in a walk across the border with Mexico to remember people who died attempting to illegally enter the U.S.

“I haven’t had any issues with crossing borders,” she explained, adding, “I’ve been in South America and Central America” despite the arrest warrant. On Thursday Andrade-Smith crossed from Mexico into the U.S.

Andrade-Smith said that her most poignant observation about homelessness is the “sense of pain, separation, loneliness.”

She said that she’s personally felt exhaustion from living on the streets for the past year.

“I will never be homeless per se — I have my church, I have my title ‘reverend,’ I have my family,” she said. “I have all this privilege that will prevent me from understanding fully, but I am trying my best.”

Andrade-Smith said that her bishop and people across the country have been very supportive, and that she would like to have her job assignment renewed.

“I’ve gotten lots of food gift cards — I don’t accept money — which allow me to share with people on the street and share stories, because everyone has one,” she said.

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