We’re not saying that editors at The New York Times were listening in to our conversations about how the church should make itself visible during the Christmas shopping season, but they could have been. Here’s the story:
Several days into the Christmas shopping season at the Northgate Mall here, the Rev. Dan Anderson stood improbably in a storefront between Sci-Fi City and the Loveable You Portrait Studio. An older couple, strolling past, slowed down to regard him.
Father Anderson, 66, wore the brown habit of the Franciscan friar, its plain humility broken only by a name tag affably identifying him as Dan. The former shoe store that he occupied contained holiday decorations, a brimming coffeepot and a life-size statue of the order’s founder, St. Francis of Assisi. On one table rested a glass fishbowl for prayer requests.
The couple asked Father Anderson if they could confess, and he guided them to a quiet corner. They spoke, he listened, and as the minutes passed, 15 or more, they gathered the courage to ask their question of both the friar and the universe: A relative of theirs had committed suicide. Was he in heaven?
As startling as the encounter may have been, it was also the precise reason Father Anderson and about 25 other friars based nearby in Cincinnati had set up temporary shop at the Northgate Mall. They opened their doors on Black Friday, which they promptly renamed Brown Friday in wry reference to their clothing, and they will remain until the afternoon of Christmas Eve.