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Still Struggling to Live Into the Kingdom of Heaven in this Fallen World

September 23, 2010

Last week, our Chapter (the governing committee of the Cathedral) voted to put up “No Trespassing” signs during the evenings after everyone has left for the night, thereby no longer allowing homeless people to sleep on the church’s front steps, outdoor landing and handicapped entry ramp. On some evenings, particularly when it rains, as many as 20 or 30 people tend to seek  shelter under our front over-hang and have spent the night together in that area. By putting up these signs, the Cathedral would be sending a signal to police that they can and should ask anyone who attempts to sleep on our front steps to leave. And if they don’t leave or if they repeatedly return, the police could, at their discretion, arrest them (though it is my understanding that making an arrest for “trespassing” of that sort would be exceedingly unusual).

As you might imagine, this was not a decision that was easy for the Chapter to make. Though I am not a member of the Chapter and could not vote on this, I was present for the discussion of the issue and the vote (which was unanimous). And my sense is that the primary reason for the Chapter’s decision is that there are significant costs to the Cathedral if we allow the homeless to sleep on our property–regular maintenance costs, in particular, that are not currently budgeted. The other costs would be potential liability if someone were hurt while camped out on our steps or if someone were to be hurt by someone on the steps. And then there is the discomfort and fear that some parishioners feel when they find themselves needing to push past folks sleeping in front of the doors to leave the Cathedral.

Should the Cathedral choose to do so, we probably could foot the bill for those monetary costs and we could encourage those who are uncomfortable and afraid when walking past the homeless folks on our doorsteps to “get over it,” or something. But in the opinion of the Chapter, those costs–while possible for us to cover–simply don’t seem worth paying to provide a space for that handful of folks who sleep outside in the downtown area to get out of the rain. There are other shelter options here in St. Petersburg that do not get filled to capacity [can be accessed if one does not use–or is willing to stop using–drugs and alcohol] and are designed to provide that sort of service. And on top of all that, the local police and the government of the City of St. Petersburg, as well as our neighbors–local businesses and an apartment building for the elderly–have all voiced their desire for us to stop allowing the homeless to sleep on our front stoop.

However, despite all these reasons, it was still a very hard decision to make and many Chapter members I’ve spoken to have mixed feelings about it even as they stand firmly behind it.

This past Tuesday, the Chapter’s decision was communicated to the members of the Cathedral’s Outreach Committee–which is composed of those parishioners (including two members of the Chapter) who are most involved and interested in St. Peter’s ministries to the poor and oppressed. A few members of that committee were outraged by the Chapter’s decision and argued passionately that we should not post “No Trespassing” signs and, in their view, effectively turn our backs on our homeless neighbors. Since there were such strong feelings and a lot to say, we decided to table the discussion until this Sunday after the 10:15 am service, when we can focus solely on it.

At this point, the Chapter has already made its decision, but the signs have not yet been put up and a protocol for enforcing them has not yet been drawn up. First, we’re going to see how Sunday’s conversation goes.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt permalink
    September 23, 2010 8:21 pm

    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.

  2. Sheree permalink
    September 24, 2010 9:37 am

    Sisters and Brothers! Discourse is healthy…discord is expected…no solution/resolution can happen without intentional (loving)effort and resources. Thankfully, the chapter decision has opened the door for us to enter into this important discussion, weigh our convictions against how much we are personnally willing to do to support those convictions (time and talent) and then act accordingly. Fear not, we will have this discussion again and again…and I see that as a good thing.

  3. September 24, 2010 10:37 pm

    @Sheree — Agreed. It’s good that we’re talking about it.

    Sadly, our city (not our church) hasn’t exactly handled the homeless with tact and finesse; so it’s no wonder some of these discussions are a little charged.

    Perhaps, working together we can find ways to make a difference that don’t put the parish in an awkward position. But I appreciate the dialogue.


  1. Still Struggling, cont’d « Cathedral Crossings
  2. Still Struggling, part 3 « Cathedral Crossings
  3. Still Struggling, pt 4 « Cathedral Crossings

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