My husband commented in my previous post that my conversation marked a mere beginning in a chapter of my ministry, and he was right. My education about homelessness in Montpelier continued today, mostly in the form of a conversation over lunch with a wise man and fellow blogger, who has lots of insight into politics, housing problems, and what might be important, relevant ministry in Central Vermont.
Vermont is, as you probably know, my home state.
Homelessness is, as you may or may not know, something for which I’ve had a near-life-long heartache, ever since I saw someone sleeping on a bench in a park in Boston, and my dad explained to me why. My little pre-teen mind couldn’t grasp the concept; you mean this person doesn’t have anywhere to stay? but look at all these people walking by! do they not notice? do they not care? how can they ignore him? why doesn’t anyone help? why don’t *we* help?
But never have the two come together before. I’m in Vermont, but in a new way, having not lived here since I was a high school student, and with (slightly!) older eyes I see it in a different way. Mainly, that we are just like everywhere else. People are hungry here. People are homeless here. And, unfortunately, people try to ignore these problems or find short-term solutions.
Montpelier is a beautiful city, a jewel of a place to live and work. It also doesn’t have much available housing, as I found out first hand when my family and I were looking for an apartment or house to rent about a month and a half ago. It definitely doesn’t have a lot of affordable housing, and on top of rent let’s not forget the heating prices in one of the most frigid states in the country.
Also, Montpelier doesn’t have a homeless shelter. Perhaps it would be unsightly, and people don’t want it in their back yard (*Carlin, again), or perhaps it is a logistical nightmare to get all the political, religious, and private parties lined up behind a project like that. I don’t know. What I know is that it gets really cold here, and there’s not anywhere to seek shelter for the short term.
But in talking with this fellow, M, at lunch, even the shelter–even our little free lunch– is just a short-term solution. What’s needed, what has always been needed, is not shelter, not transitional housing, but real, actual affordable, available housing. How are we ever to break the cycle of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and hunger, if people have no place from which to build references, job hunt, or demonstrate residency (you can’t even *go* to a food pantry unless you can prove that you are somehow a resident of the community being served, and how do you prove that with no utility bill, no drivers license, or no pay stub?)?
And suddenly, ministry seems to take on a much larger, more political, more advocacy-based and community-development-focused meaning.
Suddenly I’m thinking that the call of the church is not just to community, but to sustainable community, in all of the senses (environmental, economical, social, spiritual…) we can imagine.
Added with some suggestions (his and others’) about radio shows, local access tv, podcasting, video blogging, and so on, and I begin to feel that old Wesleyan pull that the World, or at least the Central Vermont portion of it, is my parish. Maybe my circuit is bigger than two churches, and maybe being faithful in that circuit means being an organizational and motivational force in the community for sustainability and care (beats defining success by my bulletin-toting for sure).
I don’t think it’s just the hour that makes me feel tired and overwhelmed.
And I don’t think it’s just the coffee that makes me feel excited and inspired.
* Ah, the late, great, George Carlin (WARNING: clip contains *a lot* of swearing, and may not be appropriate for all viewers, because, well, it’s George Carlin. This is not an endorsement of all of what Carlin says, but credit for the title, which is his. There, that should be enough of a disclaimer, should any of my congregants one day run for President and people try to hold them accountable for what their pastor once linked to in a blog).