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Still Struggling 3: Not WHETHER we want to help, but WHAT WE CAN DO to help

September 23, 2010

We’ve already gotten a few comments regarding the previous two posts about the Cathedral Chapter’s recent vote (as yet, not enforced) to stop allowing homeless people to sleep on our front stoop. Here they are (followed by a response from me):

One commenter writes:

Reading this I feel sad and ashamed. I really don’t understand what St. Peters is all about…. building a pretty place that “nice” people can come to once a week?

By many reports the St. Petersburg police are particularly nasty to the downtown homeless population. Now we become a part of that.

Another writes:

This past Sunday I heard, a meeting that Episcopals arrive at decision using Scripture, Tradition and reason. I can say, with certainty, that neither Scripture nor Tradition would agree with posting ‘No Trespassing’ whose sole intent is to drive homeless from their temporary home . Furthermore, reason guided by Scripture and Tradition would not arrive at this conclusion either.

“Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: “You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.” (Mat 25:34ff) What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.”

I probably should have written this in my original post, but I hope everyone knows that this issue has not been raised, discussed and voted upon by the Chapter in a cold or calloused way toward our brothers and sisters who regularly sleep on our steps. This issue was raised, discussed and voted upon in the light of the Gospel of Jesus. And we may disagree about where our priorities lie as we attempt to most fully live into our Gospel obligations, but no one I’ve seen weighing in on this has done so without prayerfully considering what God is calling us to do, right here and right now in downtown St. Pete.

I think that we are not deciding here whether to “scorn” homeless people “in (their) nakedness” nor to honor Jesus in church while neglecting him outside where (in the person of a homeless man or woman) Jesus is “cold and naked.” Nor are we choosing not to feed the hungry, nor are we becoming part of something “nasty” relative to the homeless. St. Peter’s has a rich history, a rich present, and (I believe) a rich future caring for the homeless, the poor and the hungry in St. Petersburg. Check out the ministries of Resurrection House, Celebrate Outreach! and the Salvation Army One-Stop’s “Our Daily Bread”–all organizations founded by St. Peter’s and which continue to operate effectively based on the leadership, hard-work and monetary support of St. Peter’s and its members.

The question here is not whether we should advocate for and work for and give of ourselves to our homeless neighbors. We all agree on that. The question is: What are we going to give? What does it make the most sense to give?

To offer just one, hopefully relevant, example of what I mean, consider this: Currently we allow the homeless to sleep on our front steps and they do so, especially when it rains. That leads to a relatively small amount of necessary clean up each morning. Still, maybe that cost is worth it for about 20 people to have a dry place to sleep. But we do not allow any of the homeless to come inside the narthex or the the nave of the church or our offices to sleep. We could, of course, provide shelter for many more people if we let homeless people inside our buildings during inclement whether–but we don’t. And I’ve not heard anyone suggest that we should. That would, of course, lead to a much more costly and cumbersome clean-up process every morning. But maybe we should let them come inside out of the rain at night. What do you all think? Currently, we not only lock our doors but have a fairly sophisticated alarm system that would automatically summon the police should anyone attempt to come inside. Does that mean we are “scorning” those who’d, I’m sure, welcome the chance to sleep indoors? Does that mean we are part of the “nasty” St. Pete police apparatus?

Again: I do not believe we are debating whether we should do what we can for the homeless. Everyone at St. Peter’s, not least of all the members of our Chapter, believe we should do all that we can for the homeless. Rather: we are debating what we can do for the homeless. If we can agree at least on those parameters, then I think this conversation will be more productive.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. C.A. Child permalink
    September 23, 2010 10:43 pm

    I was interested especially in the comment that there are “under-used” facilities for the homeless in St. Petersburg. It might be helpful to find out where and why. Are they inconveniently located? Do they have onerous rules? I am truly sympathetic with the desire of the church to help the homeless, but do not know whether allowing sleeping on the steps is the best way to help and why other venues already allocated for this aren’t being used. In addition, having been physically accosted–not hurt, but certainly rattled-by a homeless person on a downtown street in another city, I am sympathetic to the neighbors and/or parishioners who are made uncomfortable by having to walk by an assembled group of people camping out on the steps at night. The comment about involving the homeless in the discussion seems fitting and useful. At the very least, it would inform the discussion and perhaps even serve them by the attention and obtain their cooperation. If it is decided that people (homeless or not) should be discouraged from sleeping on the steps, I truly hope someone comes up with a more gently-worded (or specifically-worded) sign than “No Trespassing.” Ya gotta see how that wouldn’t look good.

  2. September 24, 2010 9:17 am

    Sadly, we’re a society run by lawyers. I know the “heart” of the Cathedral will find a balanced solution, so we are actually practicing what we preach.

    I am reminded of my more humble days when I worked as a server in a restaurant. At the end of every night we would shuttle down food to the local ‘Mustard Seed’. Today that probably doesn’t happen any more because an army of lawyers will tell you that’s bad. “What if someone claims they got sick off the food?” “What if someone slips in mashed potatoes? Is the restaurant liable?”

    It’s really sad modern society has sunk to the level that our “legal policy” guides our moral decisions and tells us we’re better off throwing food in dumpsters than giving it to the hungry. (Assuming we want to be insured.)

    I hope the church and its lawyers can find a balanced solution to this moral challenge.


  1. Still Struggling, pt 4 « Cathedral Crossings
  2. Lord, Save Us (from your followers) « Cathedral Crossings

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