Fr. Dale Matson
“And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” (Luke 9:58).
I was once impressed by a local church that had a sign reading, “The mission field begins at the edge of our property.” The reality for our church is that the mission field begins on our church campus. Part of our church outreach is to the homeless in our community. We offer dinners twice weekly, operate a thrift shop, limited financial assistance and minister to the homeless. Our deacons direct this ministry on campus and there is additional involvement by our parishioners in the Poverello House a privately funded ecumenical facility in another part of Fresno. http://www.poverellohouse.org/social.html.
Perhaps the thing that rends my heart the most is the erosion of human dignity and personal freedom that results from a life lived on the streets. They are more likely to be the victims of crimes, less likely to receive adequate medical services and like fast food wrappers thrown from a car window; they too are blown into the gutters.
Most research on the homeless includes lack of affordable housing as a major contributing factor. The problem with this phrase is that it can be misleading. For most homeless individuals who generally have no employment, they would at a minimum need rent subsidies and at a maximum need free housing.
Even though they are a part of our church, they generally self-select for the “outer court”. They are a family unto themselves with only a few participating in our main services. During Morning Prayer I can look out the window and see individuals sleeping in our shrubbery. During Evening Prayer, I have seen men gather outside the chapel on a circular bench and pass a bottle around but they do not attend the service. They are not passing through our campus. It has become their home. Some receive mail there and make calls from our receptionist’s phone. Do we add a Portable Potty and hire a security guard for overnight? What is the range and scope of our assistance?
I believe they feel secure on our campus but as their numbers increase the staff and volunteers feel less secure. How do we incorporate them into the life of the church? How we help them is as important as the fact that we offer help. How do we say like Jesus, “Get up and walk”? How do we teach them to fish not just hand them fish? How do we reach them spiritually so that they may be transformed by the love of Christ?
Like the Good Samaritan, how can we dress their wounds, accompany them to a destination, pay for their lodging and care but leave them at some point? Like a good parent, how do we help them to become independent and capable of self-governance and self-support? How do we equip them as any other of the Saints? I believe it has become an ever expanding issue for us. Is this an issue for your church also?
How we respond is a measure of our understanding of the grace given us. Amen