Friday, January 23, 2009

Living the tension

Ministry is full of tension and paradoxes.  There are a multitude of faith questions that force us to live in the in-between zone.  There are scriptures that say we are saved by faith and others that say we are cast into eternal suffering if we do not act in a certain way. Is i faith or is it action?  There are passages that tell us to evade relationships with non-believers and others that demand us to be in relationship with them....which is it? Avoid or embrace?  There are more tensions than that, but this post isn't really about all of those....they just lay the foundation.

In ministry I've found there is a regular tension between what we do for our members and what we do for others.  Right now, as we deal with issues of the homeless sleeping on our property, we are struggling with the tension of "protecting our members" and "being in ministry with those in need."  Believe me, it's not an easy battle.  

If you follow this blog at all, you know the discussions about ministry with the homeless have been constant in my 7 months here.  Those discussions continue and it seems they have come to a head.  There are now 5 men sleeping at the church and their choice of location is right by the main entrance door for our fellowship hall.  That means that anyone on campus for a night meeting has to walk by/through them to open the door and do the alarm and back past them to lock up.  That's put a strain on folks.  

One woman spoke to me the other night and told me of how she had been surprised when she happened upon them to open the doors and then took someone with her when she locked up.  She said, "Pastor Debbie, you wouldn't make your grandmother walk by those men at night."  She was right.  Now, I know these men and don't expect trouble, but four of them are new and I am not yet fully convinced I trust them.  And in any case, walking through 5 unknown men sleeping on the floor at night can be intimidating, especially if you are older and don't trust you could defend yourself if push came to shove.  

I volunteered at a homeless shelter my senior year of seminary to wash feet each week.  And coming and going I regularly walked past sleeping bodies.  I was never fearful, but was always aware.  I had a year to deal with my issues, prejudices, and concerns in an environment I chose to be in.  By allowing the homeless to stay on our property, church members are being forced to deal with their issues, prejudices, and concerns, but the difference is they aren't choosing to be in that situation.  It's being thrust upon them, in a way.  

It's hard.  It's beyond hard, but I'm not sure I have quite the right word to explain it to you.  It's even harder when the 4 new guys don't clean up after themselves or respect the property in the way others have.  And it's hard when there's one guy who's kosher and 4 who are do you tell 4 to leave and let one stay (especially when you know he's afraid to stay by himself)?  

More and more people of the church are talking, fussing, and threatening to leave.  So the trustees have formed a subcommittee to try and figure out what to do.  We have a list of questions for the homeless so we can make a more informed decision and the plan is to have dinner with some of them this weekend so we can ask those questions.  I also know we aren't the only church in our area struggling with this.  The Nazarene church down the street is considering hiring a security guard to kick everyone of their property.  Their Board is discerning as well.  

Today I went to a city "Homeless Care Network" meeting, which was really nice.  I've been feeling like we were floating along by the seat of our pants trying to figure out what to do and know we could do more and do it better if we weren't a loan ranger.  So it was nice to connect with people and know what others are doing.  It was nice to forge connections and see that there are other ways we could approach these issues.  I didn't come up with a perfect answer, but I was encouraged by the work of others and the possibilities and the resources of people, money, and ideas we could call upon to be better in this ministry.  

I'm struggling now because I'm weary.  I feel like it's a battle.  A battle to get the guys to clean up after themselves.  A battle to keep the bathrooms clean.  A battle to share why we are in ministry in these ways. A battle to assure people of their safety. A battle to determine the best course of action.  It's all a battle.

I think I'm ready for a paradigm shift. Battle implies fight.  And fight implies a winner or a loser and that's probably not the healthiest way to go about this.  Especially because my guess is that if I keep up at this "battle" that I will forever be the loser, and I'm not real keen on that idea.  


johnsue said...

God is still doing His play on words thing...this password verification is "diang"...a "southernese" of dang?
I want you to know I'm proud of you and again impressed by your thoughts, words and sensitivity. I apologize for attending a prayer and healing conference and neglecting praying for you! Yes, it is a fight, but the battle is not is God's. Just a reminder that sometimes spiritual warfare is the roughest kind! Oddles of love, Mother

Boxman said...

Oh man that is such a hard issue. My father in law plays the organ for a church in large downtown city where they serve meals for homeless once a week and they get a lot of residual traffic of homeless people who hang out around the church and sleep on church property.

Because it is an old mainstay church in the downtown, there are still a lot of wealthy people and elderly people who attend out of the tradition that the church has. Obviously this mix of homeless and congregation creates a lot of tension. It's even a little worse because they run a daycare and they have to be concerned for the childrens safety as well.

They try to balance it as much as possible - inviting the men in for services and having an associate pastor sit with them, having the men take turns doing "guard" duty at the door - they are surprisingly loyal about performing a task if they are asked too even tossing their fellow homeless guys out if they aren't supposed to be in the building at the time.

Hope you find peace soon no matter what your decisions.