In the News

This past week, I had an article published in The Bridge, Montpelier’s independent newspaper. That article was an edited version of two of my earlier posts about houselessness/homelessness (found here and here). Since that time, I’ve had several folks contact me about doing more together to find sustainable solutions to the housing shortage in our area. I’m excited to see where our efforts together might lead.

Welcome, Bridge readers and other visitors! Thanks for surfing over!

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Its not homelessness, it’s houselessness.*

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).

Wake up Call

“Pastor, can I talk to you just a minute?”

The fellow asking has a laugh-lined face and a voice gravelly from cigarette smoking. I stop mid-stride, and give him my full attention.

He tells me that he’s homeless, and that he sometimes sleeps on our handicap access ramp, because it’s a gentle slope, and wood rather than cold stone, and has a roof to keep off the rain. He wants to make sure I’m okay with this, and that I’d know who he is, should someone call or the police ask me about the man on our back porch. He assures me that he comes late at night and leaves early in the morning, and will not be in anyone’s way.

“But,” I sputter, because I’m a Vermonter and it’s the first thing into my head, “the snow, the cold?”

“My bag is good down to zero,” he says, “and just the shelter from the roof and the side of the building is usually enough.”

I furrow my brow at the ‘usually.’

Now I don’t know that it’s my place to give out sleeping spots on my church’s stoop, and I’m simultaneously torn between sorrow that I really can’t just give him a key to the front door and shame/horror that one even needs to ask if the church, the building that houses the people who represent a wandering, oft-homeless rabbi and his work in the world, is a safe place to sleep. So I say the only thing I can think of, which is to call him by name, and tell him that I’ll recognize him should I see him there or should somebody give his description, and that I am okay with him seeking shelter on our ramp.

He goes downstairs to the food pantry, and I go inside to my office to wonder what in the world it means to be in ministry in a place where three or four people call or stop in a day looking for money, where a night on the street in certain times in January can in fact be fatal, and where the institutional body we call church can sometimes be so anxious about the survival of its ministry that we sometimes forget to do the ministry of survival. I’m not saying that we have the wrong response, but I wish we could have more.

Go ahead. Ask me if I embodied the presence of Christ today. I shudder at the answer, because he was present in that conversation, but I think he had a gravelly voice and some laugh lines.