Remembering Paul Wilkinson

Guest Blog from John Pentland, Minister Hillhurst United Church

NewScoop YYC is pleased to share this guest blog from John Pentland, Minister of Hillhurst United Church .
Today Hillhurst heard the sad news of Paul Wilkinson’s death. Many would know him as “Smokey”. He was a constant figure around Hillhurst for six or seven years. He sat in our pews, he ate lunch in our community and he was often an out spoken person around the neighbourhood. The streets were his home.Paul was, in my opinion, the heart and soul of Hillhurst United Church. He woke us up. He reminded us of the reality of homeless living.For some Paul was an annoying reminder of dirt, of the dark side of life on the street and the reality of poverty. He was the embodiment of the sadness and destruction of addiction. Some chose to ignore him. Many loved his awkward company in our pews or a brief conversation on a Sunday.

For me he was a Christ in our midst.

I know some wanted him to wash up and clean up. I appreciated the reminder that the world isn’t that way for many. His untidiness assaulted our sanitized lives. Yes, he was annoying at times, but his annoyance was gift too.

He was a reminder that God has come for the least and was made known in the least.

I said not long ago to him, “Paul you get it!” He looked at me quizzically. I said “You get it because you have little. For us who have much, it is harder to get the importance of life as gift” He knew what it was like to have little and he appreciated and shared much. He was extraordinarily generous with what he had.

He often handed me a loonie on the street, a percentage his panhandling, “For the church, Pentland!!” he would proclaim.

He was one of the first in making a donation to the Red Cross for the fire fighters in Fort Mac Murray last June. He often brought small ‘borrowed bouquets” of flowers for our service on Sundays. He hung our Christmas lights at the church and often helped fold chairs after lunch on Sundays.

He was a person of respect for seniors, for veterans, for kids. He recently took time to write a Christmas card for a friend of mine visiting Calgary, he scribbled in it, “Remember… we are all loved by God – even me.”

At a wedding a few years ago he took a card and captured a hundred of signatures on the card and presented it to the bride and groom after the wedding. A precious gift. For me this past year he did the same for my birthday, a card signed by hundreds of street strangers. It holds a special place in my office, beside the miniature bible he gave me.

Perhaps Paul’s greatest gift is that he reminded us all about the realness of life. He reminded us that all of us have story and all of us are held in God’s love and grace. For me, he speaks of our willingness to be an open and loving community. We will miss him. I will miss him deeply.

One Easter morning he said to me, as he walked out the church door, “thanks for seeing us,” A reminder that we often ignore or overlook the street folk and they, like us, desire to be be seen for who we really are, children of God.

Today I am honoured to have been “seen by Paul” and to be called in his words… “his preacher man friend.”

No greater acknowledgement has been given to me in my 28 years of ministry. Our staff and congregation are better people because of Paul Wilkinson’s time among us. Our heart aches in grief and gratitude.

So, rest in peace my friend. See you on the “other side.” We grieve our loss and celebrate your new found peace.

A service will be held in his honour in the days ahead. We will communicate the details on our (Hillhurst United Church) Facebook page and website.

– John

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1 comment

  1. Dr. Bob

    Wow, John!! Many thanks for honouring Paul and “seeing” all of humanity. Hugs, dr bob