The motel is the Pacesetter. The name strikes me. Pacesetters go ahead, helping others go faster, do more, reach higher. They inspire achievement. Ironic.  Even a glance says that the pace of this Pacesetter is slow and downward, into the grinding world of poverty.

It is December 2015, just before Christmas, and darkness has fallen. The Pacesetter is an old-style motel, one story, a row on the right, another on the left, a driveway down the middle. This is my first motel visit. Some from my former church come here with Mean Street Ministries. Diane, Spenser and Shadia are regulars, but given my Senior Pastor pace, I have never been. Now, nudged by Jesus towards East Colfax, I start here.

We come from the burbs with Christmas cheer. Bearing presents, hot chocolate, food, gifts and carols, we show up at the Pacesetter. I walk down the driveway, aware of the shabbiness, struck by the the faces—diverse and poor. I have experience among the poor, but it has been awhile and I feel off-kilter, out of my element, unsure.  Almost like I am out of shape.I see it. Half-way down, on the left, a cop car across a doorway. Ominous, but the yellow crime scene tape across the door makes it worse. Naive as I am, I know something grim has happened.We gather and start singing. It is easy to talk with our team, reconnecting with those who used to be part of my flock. Truth be told, I am avoiding  those who live here. Word filters down about the room. A young mom with three kids has been raped and beaten to death, the body still in the room, the room now a crime scene. The words land with a thud. Really? Raped? Beaten to death? A corpse in the room? Not a cop show, real life.

I recall feeling numb; already off-kilter, now in shock from being intimately close to violence and death.There was to be a candlelight vigil outside the room so a few of us make our way over. We stand awkwardly, candles lit, wanting to share in the circle of suffering. Details blur, but a few people spoke and we sang “Amazing Grace”. Rich and poor together, huddled against darkness and death. People look for a pastor in these moments. I was glad Pastor Dave, a Colfax veteran, was there. I don’t know how to be a pastor in this moment and place, facing violence, smelling death. It seems foreign and I feel  unsure.  Dave knows what to do—he prays a prayer, grace-filled, loving, hopeful. We mill around and then go back to our group, to carols, gifts and hot chocolate.That night taught me my first motel lesson: Life here is cheap. People come, people go, people live, people die. Hardly anyone cares.

A few days later, I returned to the Pacesetter, wanting to find out about the family, especially the kids. No-one knew anything. It was as though they vanished; even Google failed me.We have seen multiple deaths since then and are struck by this: In each death we see grief, but muted. More than grief, numb acceptance. Often no memorial service, just back to grim reality.That night was my motel welcome. I went home, in shock, glad to be with my family. I had no idea that night was a next step in Jesus calling us to this world to love these people.How odd. Jesus used the Pacesetter to set a new pace, moving me from my fast-paced former life to the slow, grinding pace of the poor. As though he said, “Slow down, descend, enter into this world.” And so we have, learning to look past poverty and see individual people, beautiful people, who live here.Two weeks ago, our friend Lorna** died, leaving behind her husband Larry.**

We were just getting to know them but loved them, loved their humor and cheerfulness, their ragged faith in Jesus. Larry is a short Ute Indian and she, a tall white woman, called him her “Little Native.”Tuesday night we gathered with him and a few friends at the Carriage Inn. Candles in hand, the night dark and cold, Colfax roaring feet away, we did what Jesus’ people have always done. We laughed, cried, sang, read Scripture and prayed. We proclaimed Lorna’s life to be valuable, not cheap. We declared her to be whole in glory and stood with our friend Larry. Light and life in the face of darkness and death.In short, we were the church, acting like the church, standing together, loving each other, looking to Jesus. You see, when you live out the life of Jesus on Colfax you become, inevitably, the Church on Colfax.

**Names changed to protect identity.